Tess Slesinger’s 1934 novel, The Unpossessed details the ins and outs and ups and downs of left-wing New York intellectual life and features a cast of litterateurs, layabouts, lotharios, academic activists, and fur-clad patrons of protest and the arts. This cutting comedy about hard times, bad jobs, lousy marriages, little magazines, high principles, and the morning after bears comparison with the best work of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.
Unlike so many other thirties novels, The Unpossessed treats the “topical” themes of its age as subsets of a much larger, more abiding theme in literature: the folly of all human (and particularly of pompous intellectual) endeavor that aims at imposing a rational direction on something as incorrigibly messy as history. Slesinger’s note—perfect depiction of this folly gives The Unpossessed its irresistible narrative energy.
— The Atlantic Monthly
It’s sophisticated…full of cutting observations and over—eager images; satiric, then ecstatic, alternating social criticism with displays of sexual and intellectual coquetry.
— The Village Voice
The farce—or is it the tragedy?—of New York leftist intellectuals done in by free love is gleefully taken up in The Unpossessed…
— Publishers Weekly
Miss Slesinger’s radicalism had somewhat the flavor of Dorothy Parker’s; it was disabused, worldly, and tended to view social man as a collection of hollow, wordy grotesques. Thus the class war is transformed in her novel very largely into a war of the sexes.
— Robert Adams, The New York Review of Books