Blending memories and family myths, Mary McCarthy takes us back to the twenties, when she was orphaned in a world of relations as colourful, potent and mysterious as the Catholic religion. There were her grandmothers: one was a blood-curdling Catholic who combined piousness and pugnacity; the other was Jewish and wore a veil to hide the disastrous effects of a face-lift. There was wicked Uncle Myers who beat her for the good of her soul and Aunt Margaret who laced her orange juice with castor oil and taped her lips at night to prevent unhealthy 'mouth-breathing'. 'Many a time in the course of doing these memoirs,' Mary McCarthy says, 'I have wished that I were writing fiction.' But these were the people, along with the ladies of the Sacred Heart convent school, who helped to inspire her devastating sense of the sublime and ridiculous and her witty, novelist's imagination.