SEEING MARY PLAIN: A LIFE OF MARY MCCARTHY By Frances Kiernan W.W. Norton 845 pp., $35
PARTISANS: MARRIAGE, POLITICS, AND BETRAYAL AMONG THE NEW YORK INTELLECTUALS By David Laskin Simon & Schuster 319 pp., $26
'Seeing Mary Plain" is not a conventional biography. In some respects, it is like a vast assemblage of the raw materials from which biographies are made. Interviews with people who knew Mary McCarthy, excerpts from memoirs, letters, reviews, and books about McCarthy, plus excerpts from McCarthy's own writings are deftly spliced together in Frances Kiernan's fluent narrative of a controversy-filled life.
Only on one occasion did Kiernan see …