Sometimes You Have to Lie
By Leslie Brody. (Seal Press, 352 pages, $30.)
Louise Fitzhugh was an artist before she was a writer, but it was her fictional character Harriet M. Welsch that she will be known for forever — Harriet M. Welsch, aka Harriet the Spy, the feisty and independent little girl who spied on her neighbors and wrote everything down in her notebook.
In this fast read of a biography, Leslie Brody brings to life the spirited, ambitious and deeply independent Fitzhugh, whose early life was straight out of a Southern melodrama and whose later life was straight out of — well, “Suzuki Bean,” perhaps, the novel she wrote with Sandra Scoppettone about the “baby beatnik” who lived in Greenwich Village.
Fitzhugh grew up in Mississippi, the daughter of a wealthy and intensely controlling member of the upper crust, and a beautiful but impoverished young dancer who lost custody of her daughter in an ugly, very public divorce.
After college, Louise headed to New York City to make art, never living in Mississippi again.
Fitzhugh was tiny, pixie-like and adorable, alluring to both men and women (but she preferred women). Her revolving door of lovers is dizzying, and while she settles down from time to time, no relationship lasts.
Her fierce devotion to art, her intense friendships, her fights with her editors, her rebellion against her father are all sketched out here. This book lacks a deep sense of Fitzhugh — intensely private, she left behind few letters or journals from which to draw and only allowed two photographs of herself to be published during her lifetime — but provides a fascinating window on the life of 1950s Bohemian New York.