"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Joyce Maynard Treasure Hunt

Neosho, Missouri: Where I Grew Up in the 60s

The works of Joyce Maynard entered my life a couple of years ago through one of those uncanny paths of literary coincidence, shaping themselves before my eyes into a fortuitously designed mini - course: "The Life of Joyce Maynard & Family." The path began in May 2007 when I finally read Catcher in the Rye for the first time in my life, something I probably should done twenty - five years earlier, but better late than never. At that time, I also read some background material on J. D. Salinger, learned a bit about his life, then moved on to other things.

A few months after I finished the novel, a fellow reader gave me a magazine featuring an interview / article about the two Maynard sisters, Joyce & Rona. The sisters both make a few passing references to Joyce's early, distressing connection to J. D. Salinger. Trying to recall why that sounded vaguely familiar to me, I reviewed the Salinger info. and, this time, looked up Joyce Maynard, as well.

What an astonishing life! And even more astonishing -- why didn't I ever know about this writer and about her youthful memoir: Looking Back: Growing Up Old In the Sixties? Why didn't anyone ever tell me to read this book, back in 1973? It might have opened my eyes to a few things! I ordered a copy right away, read it in no time, and then started in on her more recent memoir: At Home in the World (1998).

According to her autobiography, as she grows older and has three kids, she starts writing a parenting / family life column in a number of periodicals. Again, I got a feeling of de-ja-vu and went to search through a notebook of things I have enjoyed and saved over the years. Sure enough, there were three essays, torn out of Parenting Magazine during the years when my children were very young. Turns out I had been her fan after all, without even realizing it! Many of these essays are available in Maynard's collection: Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life (1987).

Next coincidence, my son (older now) received a letter from the NCTE concerning the "Achievement Award in Writing" and a list of previous young winners: Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Robert Redford, and . . . Joyce Maynard!

After her first book at age 18, Maynard already had a plan for her next project, in collaboration with a family friend -- a book on doll houses, a subject dear to my heart (see my book, Created in Our Image: The Miniature Body of the Doll). As it turned out, Maynard's writing took off in another direction, and her co-writer completed the project singly (Joan McElroy's Dolls' House Furniture Book, 1976)

Another coincidence concerns the favorite genre of the friend who gave me the magazine in which I learned the story of Joyce Maynard's life -- true crime narratives, which just so happens to be another of Maynard's specialities. Maynard is the author of Internal Combustion: The Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City (2006), and To Die For (2003), which has been turned into the movie starring Nicole Kidman. Maynard wrote the screenplay and has a bit part in the movie, as the attorney.

You can learn more about Joyce Maynard and her very talented family by reading her sister's autobiography: My Mother's Daughter: A Memoir by Rona Maynard (2008); and her mother's observations on child-rearing and family life: Raisins and Almonds (1972) and Guiding Your Child to a More Creative Life (1973) by Fredelle Bruser Maynard.

I have found so much to admire in Looking Back and At Home in the World that it was rather disappointing to come across a magazine article a few months ago in which Maynard explains her decision to spend a windfall inheritance on breast implants, which she describes almost glibly as a life- and self-affirming use of resources. Yet it seems to me an oddly inconsistent choice for a woman so skeptical of medical intervention that she insisted on entirely natural home-births for her children.

I was dismayed that she would respond with anything other than outrage to her unworthy boyfriend's suggestion that she consider cosmetic surgery. How dare he look at her with "a faintly troubled expression"? At times like these, let us not forget Dorothy Parker's sage pronouncement:"Now I know the things I know, and do the things I do; and if you do not like me so, to hell, my love, with you." Surely this advice applies to our anatomy; love me, love my body. How long until we believe that we are beautiful just as we are?

So, I've had to discount Maynard's approach to mid-life crisis; but the honesty of her parenting essays and her youthful insights stay with me. She recalls, for example, hearing the phrase "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off," for the first time, when she was eight or nine. "I remember perfectly...That Stop-the-World phrase, anyway, seemed so familiar, and so telling, struck so deep, it was as if I'd thought it up myself. I knew the feeling, all right -- the frightening, exhausting realization that no matter what, from now till my death, I could not really take a rest" (Looking Back, 54).

For more on Joyce Maynard's Memoirs
check out my "Listmania" on amazon.com:
Joyce Maynard Treasure Hunt

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