NESFA Members' Reviews

Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril

by Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary

Between the Lines, 2002, ISBN 1-896357-57-1

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is Judith Merril's autobiography, completed after her death by her granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary. It's pieced together from sections written by Merril herself, essays written originally for other purposes, taped interviews, and letters. Up through the early fifties, and Merril's relationship with Walter Miller and the custody fight with her first husband over her older daughter, it's a reasonably full, interesting, and informative account. There's a lot here about her marriage to Fred Pohl, her writing partnership with Cyril Kornbluth, he r relationships with Ted Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, and Walter Miller, and about her development as a writer. After that, the account gets sketchier and sketchier. Apparently a great deal is left out about her year in the UK. Once she moves to Toronto, it's all surface and politics, and sketchy even on what it covers. The sense of incompleteness is increased by the pictures accompanying the text: there are pictures of older daughter Merril Zissman's children and grandchildren, but almost no mention of the daughter herself, or any relationship which could have produced offspring. There's a description of younger daughter Ann Pohl's wedding to "Alan"--apparently the Mr. Weary who is the father of Emily Pohl-Weary and her brother Tobias, and later a picture of the family dinner after Ann's wedding to Juan Miranda, with no mention of any events in between. There's a picture of Fred Pohl, Elizabeth Ann Hull, and Judith Merril sitting at a dining room table in Toronto in 1995, engaged in apparently friendly conversation, and no mention of the visit or any other contact other than unavoidable public contact at conventions after their divorce four decades earlier. Pohl-Weary says in her introduction that much didn't get included because Judith Merril didn't get it written herself before her health deteriorated so that she couldn't, and then they didn't manage to do interviews on much that should have been included before she died. She also says that she to some degree censored her grandmother's stories to avoid hurting people she loves and respects. This is all understandable, but the effect of it is that the latter third of the book has very little to engage the reader who is interested in Merril as a writer and editor of sf, and her life in the science fiction community, and I think not so much, either, for those who are interested in her politics and her life in Canada apart from her continuing connections to the sf world.

An interesting but frustrating book.

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