I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane | Book review
Melville House resurrects one of the first confessional memoirs in the U.S.
“I have in me a quite unusual intensity of life,” declares 19-year-old Mary MacLane in her emotionally charged memoir. It’s an understatement wider than the skies above Butte, the “uncouth, warped” Montana town where she penned I Await the Devil’s Coming, one of the first confessional books written in the U.S. Originally published in 1902 under the much tamer title The Story of Mary MacLane (the publisher’s switch, not hers), the book was recently reprinted as part of Melville House’s stellar Neversink Library series.
MacLane wanted to capture her inner life “in its nakedness,” sharing her loneliness, resentments, bisexual longings and desire for Fame (with a capital F). She achieved the latter when The Story of Mary MacLane sold 100,000 copies in its first month. But it also incited outrage. “Uncouth” and “warped” were likely words lobbed right back at her by scandalized readers. As Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin points out in the intro, today’s readers are not so easily shocked (“Sex with the Devil doesn’t even rate”), but it is surprising how ahead of her time MacLane, an early feminist, was.
The Devil’s Coming can be a frustratingly repetitive read. In each entry, the hyper-analytical author circles back to the same topics and descriptions: Montana’s “sand and barrenness,” the “intense Nothingness” of her life and the happiness that eludes her. Occasionally, though, she finds fresh ways to convey her angst, as when the sight of toothbrushes belonging to her and her family symbolize “the aimless emptiness of her existence” in Butte.
In the Twitterverse (and beyond), we’re pretty unfazed by oversharing, but at the turn of the century, MacLane’s fiery frankness made her a pioneer.