At Home in the World
by Joyce Maynard
From The Nation Magazine, November 16, 1998
Private Parts, Public Women
By Chris Kraus
A year or so ago while studying the history of atrocity in Guatemala for a book called I Love Dick, I read a monograph by Henry Frundt about the eighties Coca Cola strike in Guatemala City. How does evil happen? The book used this single incident to describe not just how things were but how they came to be, recording every phone call, memo, meeting, private conversation. Frund's book was a classic "case study."
I wondered if the "case study" could be used to understand not only politics but people's lives. I was writing letters to a fairly well known art and cultural critic, "Dick." When "Dick" started flirting, coming on to me in the presence of my husband, I was confused, excited and took it as the opening of a conversation, one I needed desperately. Why had my work and the work of other female artists I admired received so little recognition? "Dick" had written a great deal about contemporary art and culture but not once about a female artist, writer, thinker. So I thought if I could write into his blind spots , I could write into the blind spots of the culture. If women have failed to make "universal" art because we're trapped within the personal, why not universalize the "personal" and make it the subject of our art? I'd turn myself into a case study, play Artaud to "Dick'"s Jacques Riviere.
While I wrote a great deal about my own experience,and the experience of other female artists, there was very little in the book about my addressee. He was an imaginary listener, not a speaker. Nevertheless, six months before the book came out, I got a Cease and Disist letter from his lawyer. To publish it would violate "Dick'"s right to privacy.
Maynard: 'I've come more and more to trust myself'
Now, this was highly ironic, because the main contention of the book had been that wehnever women write, make art that describes the circumstances of their lives, they will (1) be accused of violating men's "privacy"; (2) be charged with narcissism; and (3) see their intentions trivialized.
"I have just realized the stakes are myself" is the way the poet Diane di Prima put it in 1973. Another example: After making sculpture, drawings and ceramics for eleven years, the artist Hannah Wilke began, in 1974, inserting photos of herself into her work. She used her gorgeous female presence as a provocation, inviting viewers to project what they project onto sexualized women onto her, life. It was a dadaist intervention. Critics bit. "Every time I see her work I think of pussy," James Collins wrote in Artforum; Wilke was a "narcissist" (New York Times); she had "no theory" (Screen). Even Wilke's final work, a set of photos of her naked, cancer-ridden body, was described as "a deeply thrilling venture into narcissism" (Ralph Rugoff, Los Angeles Times).
In 1985 Claes Oldenburg threatened an injunction against the University of Missouri Press forbidding them to publish images and text from two of Wilke's major pieces in a survey of her work. The two had lived together and collaborated for seven years. Not just a snapshot or the notes between them but in fact the mere mention of his name, Oldenburg's lawyers said, would violate his "privacy."
Wilke got the point. "Eraser...Erase her!" she wrote in a later work. As Wilke's sister, Marsie Scharlatt, says, "While men invoke the right to privacy, women are erased from history. Could "privacy" be to contemporary female art what "obscenity" was to male writing of the sixties? How can anyone describe a life without mention of the others who pass through it? The right of "privacy" is opposed to the right of someone to possess her own experience, make it something universal through her work.
So I was very interested in the press around Joyce Maynard's new book, At Home in the World, a memoir chronicling a life that was greatly shaped by the year she spent with J.D. Salinger. The privacy issue was invoked--how could she?--and the characters are epic: Maynard, whose greatest crime is, according to the relatively sympathetic Irene Lachner (LA Times ), her "small talent," against the formidable Salinger, best known these days for his pursuit of privacy in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Queasy and uncomfortable, deceptively simple and well written, At Home in the World reads like a case study of straight-girl ambition in the seventies. If we can admit that straight women failed, at least until the last two decades, to make much impact on the culture, shouldn't we try to find the reasons? When Joyce Maynard was 18, in 1972, there were very few models of powerful and loved achieving women. The daughter of two bitter, underrecognized intellectuals, precocious Joyce was trained to be a talking dog, parlaying all her experience into bright and pleasing copy. And yet she was curiously unprotected as a person or a girl. When 53-year-old Salinger comes on to her, following the publication of her grandiose "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back On Life" in the New York Times Magazine, she's pushed by all the adults around her to enter into this liason.
And, understandably enough, she's hooked. Salinger says seductively that her writing "arouses affection." As she recalls, Salinger uses words to talk about her writing in the way "another person might about more physical, sexual experiences." And that is perfect for her. Salinger's particular attraction sexualizes 18-year-old Joyce Maynard's mind, the only thing she'd ever been recognized or praised for.
"Nobody," she writes, "suggests this is a bad idea or questions what might be going on in the mind of a fifty-three year old man who invites an eighteen year old to spend the weekend. (But then, my parents never seem to recognize the oddness or danger in my hitchhiking , either.)" Like a great many serious young women of her generation, Maynard had to raise herself. No one helped her reconcile ambition ("male") with the alien state of "femininity." At Home in the World reads like a companion piece to Mary Pipher's penetrating Reviving Ophelia, a study of the painful and crosswired contradicitons that still plague ambitious girls.
Although she avoids ever suggesting it, it could be argued that Salinger ruined Maynard's life. At any rate, her encounter with him greatly shaped it. When Salinger projects himself into her life, Maynard was living outside her troubled, claustrophobic family for the first time , and despite her annoying precocity, she was starting to make friends at Yale. Her writing receives a phenomenal success, which, however fluky, she enjoys. Salinger draws her wholly into his world. She drops out of school (and never finishes) to move in with him, loses all sense of continuity with her friends. His attraction is a stream of fantasy projections that stops without any explanation when her presence becomes demanding and too real. Discarded and adrift at 19, she finds her self utterly derailed. Confidence is the most precious asset, and the first one lost by teenage girls. In the ensuing years she rethinks everything. It's no surprise that after her experience in Cornish, she leaps at the first promise of a "normal" life and marriage. Wich eventually entailed supporting a family of five with her "small talent."
"Now (why only now?)," Hermione Lee sniffs, questioning the timing of this memoir in the New York Times. I take Joyce Maynard at her word when she states clearly in the introduction that she was moved, around her daughter's 18th birthday , to write about her own experiences as a girl.
Every review of this book I've read in the avalanche of press that's surrounded it is a review of Maynard's person. A few, like Katha Pollitt's in The New York Times Book Review, approach compassion; the majority are written with astonishing contempt and even hatred. Invariably, Maynard is compared to Monica Lewinsky. But isn't there a difference between answering questions under a grand jury investigation and sitting down to write a book? "A tawdry boudouir confession...smarmy, whiny, smirky and above all else, almost indescribably stupid," Jonathan Yardly writes in the Washington Post. "Oh, that busy Maynard mouth," Gerry Hirshey sneers in Mirabella, referring to Maynard's only literal account of the painful and uneasy sex between this 53-year-old man and 18-year-old woman. "Maynard lurches out of her icky , masturbatory eroticon shrieking only Me, me, me."
Reviewers approach Maynard's work as if the purpose of autobiography were only self analysis (which invariably she's faulted for) rather than the placing of an individual's experience in a context of time. None of the dozen articles I have read fail to mention Maynard's encounter several years ago with her sister Rona, who declines to stay in the same house with Maynard's family because, "you...take...up...so...much...space."
This is evidence, reviewers find, that Maynard is lacking as a person, is "a major piece of work." Obsession with her "character" and ethics" preclude discussion of the content or quality of her book.
Not all autobiography is held to the same standard. Take, for example, the junkie memoir. Can anyone be more self-absorbd than an addict? And yet reviews of Jerry Stahl's terrific Permanent Midnight and Richard Hell's Go Now were all discussions of these men's books and not their characters. As the late Kathy Acker wrote about Cain's Book, "Alexander Trocchi...taught me that writers do not make up stories but attempt to find the truth."
Hermione Lee laments the "betrayal of privacy," and yet the book that Maynard wrote was about her own life, not J.D. Salinger's. Because she's naming names in the writing of this first-person memoir, she is scrupulously respectful of their autonomy as human beings. The only motivations that she probes or seeks to understand are her own. Paul Auster and Rob Bingham, both writing in the more legitimate genre of contemporary fiction, "fictionalize" past girlfriends by giving them different names. The physical descriptions of these women, their professions, verbal nuances, make them immediately recognizable to anyone who knows them. But once "transformed" into "characters" by a narrator who seeks to "understand" them, the most intimate details of their lives enter the public domain. First-person writing must always be accountable. Fiction can be an act of psychic rage.
"Women," Maynard says, "have hated me."
Maynard's account of her months with Salinger, writes Elizabeth Gleick of Time, "is full of all those key details sympathetic girlfriends require...Maynard turns out not to have an introspective bone in her body." Even Katha Pollitt, well aware of the negative press that women give to other women, faults Maynard for failing to understand her own story. "If she seems like a 44 year old woman who is still 18," she writes, "maybe that goes to show how deep the damage went."
After finishing the book and discovering that she was by no means the only girl who passed through Salinger's life, Maynard makes a final trip to Cornish. She wants to talk to him, and asks what Gleick calls "a typically Maynardian question": what was my purpose in your life?"
No one picks up on a quote I find more telling and disturbing, this time Salinger to Maynard about a woman he doesn't like: She has "a mouth like a cunt." "I can't stop thinking about it," Maynard writes. "Is my mouth like that...? What does that mean? What kind of mouth is that?"
People do affect each other. I can't think of anything more legitimate to ask.
She Slept With J.D. Salinger!
Fragile Investiture: One of the most valuable points of Joyce Maynard's memoir is its warning that young women would do well not to trust sugar daddies bearing gifts.
Joyce Maynard finds her way home to the truth
By Sarah Coleman
Early on in her new memoir, At Home in the World, Joyce Maynard writes that as a child, she was "consumed with a desire to win contests, earn money, earn recognition from the world and, above all, from my parents." Though she claims she's lost that intense hunger to please, Maynard's inner child must be reeling right now. Having broken her silence in At Home in the World about the creepy affair she had with J.D. Salinger in 1973, when she was 18 to the famous author's 53, Maynard has won herself both fans and detractors.
In fact, this is her second time around as a Notorious Writer; the first was in 1972, when her essay "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life" made her a de facto spokeswoman for her generation. It was this essay which also launched her relationship with Salinger, who wrote her a fan letter from his hermit's hideaway hole in New Hampshire.
Though there's no doubt that the relationship with Salinger is the book's pivotal event, it occupies only a third of the narrative. Of the remainder, half describes Maynard's childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic father and a frustrated, overbearing mother; the other half follows her through an ill-fated marriage and the birth of three children. The early section, in which Maynard describes how her parents pushed her to be a literary wunderkind, will strike a chord with any child of ambitious parents. Maynard is, to put it mildly, a little peeved that these aspects of her book have been overlooked.
"The critics' response to this book has been so limited," she says in a phone conversation from her home in Marin County. "Thank God it wasn't the literary establishment's approval I was seeking; otherwise I'd be sitting in a chair right now, rocking back and forth and muttering."
Even before she set out to write the book, Maynard says, she knew she'd be taken to task for "presuming to talk about this icon, Salinger." She feels there's a double standard afoot--that "the same kind of truth-telling that has resulted in my being labeled, by some, 'a shrill, hysterical fishwife' or 'a vengeful harpy,' if manifested by a male storyteller might be termed 'brave, gritty, raw honesty.' "When I mention the literary wars between Philip Roth and his ex-wife Claire Bloom (Roth's new novel, I Married a Communist, contains a vicious characterization of Bloom, who exposed him in her 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll's House), Maynard wants to know whether Roth, like Bloom, has been criticized for exploiting their relationship for "material." When I say I haven't heard any criticism of Roth yet, she exclaims, "Well, now isn't that interesting!"
Unlike Bloom's book, At Home in the World has solid literary underpinnings. Though it may not be a masterpiece, it's a well-crafted memoir that gives insight into the life of a troubled young woman. Ironically, Salinger himself guided Maynard toward this kind of disclosure. Worried that she was writing too much callow, crowd-pleasing journalism, he tells her in the book that "some day, Joyce, you'll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you're keeping everyone happy, and you'll simply write what's real and true."
So how would she feel now if Salinger came out with a novel based on their affair? "I'd actually be fascinated to read such a novel--I'd be the first one to buy it," she says. "One of the extraordinary difficulties I've had to grapple with all of my adult life is trying to make sense of an experience that changed my life without any word from the other participant about what had happened, or what it meant to him. I'd love to find out."
At a recent reading at Booksmith on Haight Street, Maynard didn't look like a woman grappling with extraordinary difficulties. Perky and upbeat, she threw out one-liners as though she were entertaining the troops. "Throughout my life, nothing has terrified me more than not talking about something," she told the audience. "As you might have noticed, I've gotten over that."
Maynard's fans are legion, and the evening provided a few fresh recruits. Abby, who described herself as a "San Francisco street artist," had brought her grandson and a flask of tea with her. She confided she'd never before attended a book reading. "I think this is the greatest book I've ever read," she told Maynard. "You articulate things that have never before been articulated."
Other audience members were devotees of the Web site community Maynard hosts at www.joycemaynard.com ("I've always maintained a high level of interaction with readers," she says of the site) and had come out to support her. One young man was struck by Maynard's assertion that "Salinger was the closest thing I had to a religion." "I'm in that kind of situation with a friend, a loved one, and it's wrong," he says. "You've given me the courage to make that phone call."
"It's fascinating to see the degree to which this book has touched a nerve in people," Maynard says. She has traveled around the country for the past six weeks, she says, and "not a reading has gone by when some young woman, or older woman, hasn't come up to me and said, This happened to me. By which they didn't mean that they'd received letters from J.D. Salinger, but that they too had the experience of giving themselves over to a vastly more powerful and controlling man. And that they knew the damage such a relationship can produce."
Current events, of course, lend weight to this theme. In the long term, one of the most valuable points of Maynard's book might turn out to be its warning that heroism is a fragile investiture, and that young women would do well not to trust sugar daddies bearing gifts. Two years too late for Monica Lewinsky, the message now packs an extra punch.
"Women have recognized themselves in my story and have been left feeling less isolated and shameful as a result," Maynard says. Musing on the abuse she's received, she remarks, "This book, in some senses, holds a lamp up to the reader's life. If somebody has dark secrets, they're not going to feel very comfortable with someone else who's decided to turn the light on."
Joyce Maynard: Then and Now
An author on her 30-year quest for wisdom
NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE
May 31 — To commemorate the 30th anniversary of My Turn, our weekly column written by NEWSWEEK’s readers, we’re republishing highlights from all 30 years. Accompanying each piece will be an update on the author. This week, Joyce Maynard.
MAYNARD was like other young, aspiring, liberal-minded writers in the early
’70s. She wrote about Joan Baez’s music, Jackie Kennedy and the Vietnam War. For
NEWSWEEK, though, she tackled a different subject: the quest for role models by
a generation she called apathetic.
By the time she wrote the piece, headlined “Searching for Sages,” for the Dec. 25, 1972, My Turn section, the 19-year-old Maynard’s writing career was off to a sizzling start. A few months before, she had developed a piece for The New York Times Magazine reflecting on her 18 years. That story formed the basis for her novel, “Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing up Old in the Sixties,” published in 1973.
In her New York Times story, she presented herself “as someone clear and formed in my views. I was an 18-year-old girl. I was a forming person,” she says. “It was not the wisest thing, while in the act of growing, to be in the public eye,” she says. “It makes for a kind of dishonesty. It requires you to present to the world a finished product when you’re not a finished product.”
Both the novel and her New York Times story were met with mixed reactions. Something of a media sensation, she was characterized as a spokesman for her generation. But she was criticized for her lack of experience, immature writing style and her views on hot-button issues, like the Vietnam War. “There are people who will never forgive me,” Maynard says.
Maynard’s work, meanwhile, grabbed the attention of J. D. Salinger, the reclusive author of “The Catcher in the Rye.” After The New York Times piece was published, she received a letter from Salinger praising her bold and honest writing style. The two began a fleeting love affair.
at 49, Maynard reflects on the various sages in her life, and how they’ve
brought her to her life as a writer today.
“The word, ‘sage’ was a very important phrase for him,” Maynard says, noting that Salinger critiqued her My Turn piece, written during the time she lived with him. “His belief was that a young person should attach herself to a sage and for me, he was it.” Maynard says she would not have published the piece had Salinger not approved of it.
Today, she has a different view of the relationship. “The man that I came to believe in so powerfully and exclusively was different than the one on the page,” Maynard says.
than a year, their relationship ended. “I bought a piece of land in New
Hampshire and lived alone for the next three years,” she says. “I was probably
having a quiet, extended nervous breakdown ... When someone tells you you’re a
worthless and contemptible human being, you no longer have ground to stand on.
That was my situation. I had turned over to Salinger the power to tell me
everything about how the world was. He was the same person who told me I was the
most brilliant person he’s ever known,” she says. “I questioned myself. I felt
that I had failed in the only truly important undertaking in my life. It was
approval more than love. I then disapproved of myself.”
Finally, Maynard realized it was time to get on with her life. In 1977, she moved to New York to work as a journalist. There, she met her future husband with whom she had three children.
Pulling her life back together was a “gradual process,” she says. “I married, I wrote books, I raised children. But through all those years, I continued to carry this great weight of shame.” In 1998, she made her relationship with Salinger public in “At Home in the World: A Memoir.” The work was controversial. “Although the book was not particularly read, it was certainly criticized,” she says.
Maynard says she decided to reveal the story as her daughter was turning 18. “I couldn’t see my 18-year-old self as worthy. One 18-year-old that I could recognize as valuable and worthy was my daughter. That gave me the freedom to tell my story.”
Writing the memoir required Maynard to go through old letters from Salinger. Soon after the book was published, she sold those letters. With that, a correspondence occurred between Maynard and 15 other women who wrote asking how they, too, could sell their love letters from Salinger. “They recognized that these were manipulative documents. Some women had many letters. One woman had a letter over 100 pages long,” she says. Why did she sell the letters? “I needed to put three children through college,” she says simply.
Maynard has just returned from a seven-month stay in Guatemala, where she continued work on her latest novel, “The Usual Rules,” which reflects on the events of September 11. The book got its start after Maynard read a story in the New York Times about a young girl who lost her mother that day and decided to continue the young girl’s story in a fictional rendition. “The situation of a child experiencing every kind of loss really haunted me, I think because my own children experienced the division of family that comes from divorce,” she says, referring to her divorce from her husband in 1989.
“I think I’ve come more and more to trust myself,” she says, reflecting on where her life has gone since her time spent with Salinger. The most important lesson she’s learned, she says, is that “it’s a very dangerous business to invest in any one person. Over the years, I’ve encountered many wise people, but I don’t give over complete blanket acceptance.”
Her journey as a writer has carried her a long way. Although old criticisms continue to haunt her work, she remains confident in how she had handled her earlier years. “I know well enough who I was at the time. I was just young,” she says. “I was doing the best that I could.”
My Turn at 30: Dec. 25, 1972
Searching for Sages
JUST ABOUT EVERY suburban-born, college-bred boy I know has a hitchhiking story about “this real great truck driver” he met, the kind of salt-of-the-earth, natural man who hasn’t read a book in twenty years but who, his hitchhiking passengers tell me, “knows what it’s all about.” He’s usually called Joe or Red, this potato-and beef-hauling Everyman, and his life’s a little tragic: he sleeps in the cab of his truck and spends Christmas on the road, staring out at the colored lights blinking through frosted windows (he’s something of a poet, too, Red is) but tough, as it is, his life is simple, honest, and free. He is a philosopher of the road who has given the boy-because this boy is special—some parting nugget of Truth as he lets him out at Exit 1 for New Haven or Exit 23 for Cambridge, some words of wisdom the boy now imparts to me, over coffee and deeply inhaled non-filter cigarettes in the campus grill. I don’t mean to sound lofty. I’ve met my unionized Polonius too and left him convinced at least for a half hour that what he’d told me (Life is like a pizza ... Love is a merry-go-round...) was more profound than anything I’d got at school.
We’re all in search of sages—my generation in particular. Information surrounds us. Facts about the number of North Vietnamese dead and grams of carbohydrate in Rice Krispies and points lost on the stock exchange and figures on TV-star divorces are drilled into us like lists of vocabulary words for college boards. Oh, the new trend in education, while we were in school, leaned toward “concepts” and away from what were called “specifics.” Vagueness—we called it bullshitting—was often easy on our high-school essay-question exams. But in spite of the generalities we met with at school, there was a feeling of being overwhelmed by details.
Every succeeding generation has just that many more years of history to study—more Presidents, more planets (Pluto had not yet been discovered when my parents were in school. Neither had DNA). We were bombarded outside of the classroom most of all by a mediablitz of magazines, TV sets and car radios (Only when they are turned off do we notice they’ve been on). A whole new area of expertise has been developed—some day it will be a college major: the field of trivia. TV game shows, awarding cars and minks and garbage compacters to the ones who know the most cereal-box-type information, have glorified it for us. Watching those shows, singing along with the car radio (I can recite the ads, even), I am amazed to discover how much I know, without knowing I knew it. I answer bonus questions without thinking, like the reincarnated Bridie Murphy speaking in a dialect she claimed she’d never heard.
All of which cannot help but clutter the mind. It’s an unscientific notion that, like a cupboard, the brain has only so many shelves before things start to crowd and fall out, but I often get the feeling that I haven’t space left to spread out my thoughts and see what I have. Loose links clanking in my head, and no chain, I long for—capital W—Wisdom. We all do, I think. Teachers were rarely funds of knowledge for us; they seldom knew more than what the textbooks taught, keeping one step ahead, reading the chapters the day before they were assigned. Parents, cautioned in the age of permissiveness not to overburden with advice, and confused themselves, sometimes to the point of despair, could give little. The venerable God died in our youth. (I still remember the cover of Time magazine one week—IS GOD DEAD?; the phrase and the notion were brand-new then, and though he’d never been alive for me in the first place, the idea of his death, the death of one of the few existing sages—even a mythical one—disturbed me.) Indeed, so many of our childhood authority figures made a point of not being profound, wary of being laughed at for seriousness by what they took to be a sharp, tough, unsentimental bunch of smart-aleck cynics.
Actually, we weren’t that way at all. My contemporaries surprise me with what is at times their mushiness—their damp-eyed reading of “Love Story,” Kahlil Gibran and the thin best-selling books of Rod McKuen’s emaciated poetry; their rejection of their parents’ Muzak for a just-as-artificially-sweetened kind of pop; their trust in the occult and all things astrological, following the daily horoscope with a faith they never gave, when they were younger and regarded as more gullible, to fortune-cookie prophecies and tea-leaf aphorisms. The absence of true sages—men and women of deep sensibility—leads us to make false gods of rock poets and B-grade philosophers, injecting comic strips and children’s books with significance their authors never knew they had. We, who so hated school, are in search now of teachers. An apricot-robed, lotus-folded guru with a name too long to fit on one line of a poster, and old man on a park bench (with a beard, if possible), a plain-talking, no-nonsense Maine farmer with a pitchfork in his hand, the author of any slim volume of austere prose or poetry (the fewer words he writes, the more profound each one must be)—we attend their words so abjectly, sometimes even literally sit at their feet, waiting for any crumb of what will pass as wisdom to be offered to us.
I remember a show-and-tell day when I was in fourth grade. I brought in a pot-holder I’d woven, someone displayed a sea anemone and someone else explained the engine of his model car, and one boy brought his rosary beads and his crucifix and took from his wallet a photograph of his priest and himself beside their church. We were all too stunned to laugh at first, but then the giggling started, until we were all hiccuping and one girl had to run off to the bathroom without waiting for a pass, and even the teacher was smiling, because religion was something shameful, the soft underside some of us had, but kept concealed. (Going to church was OK, like going to Brownies. But to speak, as Ralphie Leveque did, of loving God and of the blood of Christ, and Mary’s tears and thorns and nails—that seemed almost dirty).
Now, while the fourthgraders might still giggle, Jesus has come out of the closet. The disenchanted and the ones never enchanted in the first place are returning to the fold with a passion their once-a-week religious parents never possessed. It is a sign of many things: an attempt to purify the spirit, to be drenched in holy waters after a drug-filled adolescence, a form of the new nostalgia, even-almost camp. What’s really going on, though, in the Jesus movement is our search for a prophet, for someone who can, for a change, tell us the answers. (The big line I remember from our school days was, “There is no one right answer. What’s your opinion?”) After so many unprofound facts and so much loose, undisciplined freedom, it’s comforting to have a creed to follow and a cross to bear.
Joyce Maynard, 19, has been studying at Yale. Her book, “Looking Back,” will be published in the spring.
I Was a Teen-Ager for the New York Times
Joyce Maynard sells herself, piece by piece.
Posted Friday, January 9, 1998, at 12:30 AM PT
There is a gruesome Stephen King story, called "Survivor Type," in which a heroin-addicted surgeon marooned on a desert island successively amputates each of his limbs in order to survive. (Horrid last line: "tastes like ladyfingers ...") This story always reminds me of my Yale classmate Joyce Maynard. Ever since she turned 18, Joyce has been selling off tiny portions of her life, and successfully enough to make many of us envious. Her first coup was perhaps her greatest: the 1972 New York Times Magazine cover story that set a generation's teeth on edge, "Looking Back: An Eighteen Year Old Reflects on Life." (Horrid topic sentence: "My generation is special because of what we missed rather than what we got, because in a certain sense we are the first and the last.")
The article unpacked what would prove to be Joyce's life baggage: a chirpy, articulate writing style; a weather eye for Zeitgeist shifts; and a narcissistic obsession with herself. Enthralled by celebrity culture, enthroned by the New York Times, for the past quarter-century she has worked "as a reporter on my life's beat." From "The Embarrassment of Virginity" (Mademoiselle, 1972) to "Changing My Breast Size ... Again" (Self, 1997), she has hacked her way through three decades wrapped in a delusion torn from the Oliver Sacks casebook: The Woman Who Mistook Herself for Someone Interesting. "The Millennium and Me"? I'm sure the rough draft is sitting in Joyce's laptop.
Joyce recently announced that she will be looking back again, this time at her nine-month love affair with reclusive New Hampshire writer J.D. Salinger. Her announcement, prompted by the untimely leak of her book proposal, came as a surprise. The Salinger story was always Joyce's literary high ground, a museum piece of integrity not included in the ongoing fire sale of her life experiences. It was a story she had promised repeatedly not to tell. "I will always respect his privacy," she told an interviewer in 1992. "I made that promise a long time ago." When a Salinger biographer approached her earlier this year, she hung up on him.
The Salinger story resembles the "ladyfingers" in the Stephen King tale. It was the last item on the shelf. Everything else has already been shipped out. The late teens went to "Looking Back," which was expanded into a book. She told the story of the halcyon years of her marriage in two children's books and in a syndicated newspaper column. Her divorce, which was not amicable, proved to be edgy fodder for copy. Several newspapers canceled her column, which later morphed into a subscribers-only newsletter called Domestic Affairs. "It's a publication unlike any other I've seen," says ... Joyce Maynard, "full of very honest writing by me and the men and women who subscribe, who send me extraordinarily moving letters about their own lives."
After her marriage folded, Joyce started merchandising ghoulish, oddball dating stories, some of them prompted by this personal ad she placed in Boston magazine: "The truth is I'm gorgeous, slender, talented, and passionate. My academic credentials and creative achievements are impeccable." There's some fiction here: Joyce dropped out of Yale before collecting her impeccable academic credentials. But also some truth: Joyce was an extraordinarily attractive woman. Before the breast implants, that is.
Now we're talking Stephen King. In a desperate commingling of self-abasement and self-interest rivaled only by Kathryn Harrison's memoir of French-licking her father, Joyce sold the story of her 1990 breast-augmentation surgery to Self magazine. Well, OK. The problem was, the new boobs were too big: "My breasts were a size 40, D cup," Joyce wrote. They "stood out like a pair of headlights." So what does a girl journalist do? Whip out the notebook! Declaring herself to be a "researcher investigating the world of big-breasted women," Joyce belched forth a 4,500-word screed in Self this summer, reporting on the implants' removal. Someone floated the notion that post-op Joyce might pose topless for the photo spread. Instead, she is seen grasping the silicone sacs in two separate full-page photos, one captioned, "The nostalgic author holds on to her old implants."
Oddly, none of these adventures crops up in the recent advertising campaign for Scholastic magazine, which features Joyce as a poster girl for youth literacy. Nor are they to be found on her astonishing Calling-All-Lonelyhearts Web site (www.joycemaynard.com), where one can buy past books, a package of the famous divorce columns and, of course, subscribe to the Domestic Affairs newsletter. Lately, Joyce has been posting tales of her recent move to the Bay Area and commenting upon the dating habits of the few other Type A personalities in laid-back Marin County.
It was on the Web site that Joyce first informed her fans that she would "tell a story I've never told before"--about Salinger. A cynic might suggest that by heretofore honoring the 78-year-old Salinger's privacy, Joyce has shrewdly protected her investment. The literary marketplace has assigned a huge premium to true-life tales of Salinger and Thomas Pynchon, two great American writers who quit the publicity mainstream decades ago. A friend who has seen her book proposal reports that it is classic Joyce: gossipy, un-prudish, and self-indulgent, with very little information about Salinger's literary pursuits. (But we do learn that he is into homeopathy.) Small matter that one of Salinger's lawyers has branded Joyce's project "unconscionable." The wheels of commerce--sorry, literature--are a-turning.
With Joycean aplomb, my former classmate is looking to score a twofer. Not only will her book generate interest among lit types, but she is also aiming for the vast, self-regarding "victim" audience. That's right--Joyce now sees herself as a victim of Salinger's romantic intrigue. Sparring with a critic at her Web site, Joyce styled herself "a woman sought out at 18 by a man 35 years her senior, who promised to love her forever and asked her to forswear all else to come and live with him," blah blah blah. This represents a turnaround from previous characterizations of the Salinger interlude: "After I left [Salinger], it seemed like I'd been in 'Lost Horizon,' " Joyce told the Boston Globe in 1992. "There was no place on earth for me to go."
But contradictions abound in Joyce's latest outing. A few weeks ago, she informed the New York Times that she decided to tell the Salinger story now because her daughter recently turned 18. That was Joyce's age when J.D. summoned her to his hilltop aerie in Cornish, N.H. Yet when I sought her out for comment shortly before she concocted her sob story for the Times, Joyce told me she whipped up the Salinger submission to fulfill a contractual obligation to St. Martin's. And she complained about the size of the advance.
Forced by a cruel publishing house to give up her last, cherished family jewel at a fire-sale price. Doesn't that just say everything about the times we live in? I think there's a piece there, Joyce
Selling and telling on Salinger
By Margaret Renkl
JULY 12, 1999: A couple of weeks ago, an odd kind of love story unfolded at a Sotheby's auction. On the block were 14 letters from J.D. Salinger to Joyce Maynard, an aspiring writer who was, at the time the letters were written nearly 30 years ago, Salinger's child lover. But that's not the story I mean: The real love story happened when California philanthropist Peter Norton paid $156,500 for those letters and then gave them back to Salinger.
Because of copyright law, which protects the content of a writer's correspondence, there was no risk that the letters might be purchased by some wicked publisher hoping to humiliate the reclusive author. Still, what Peter Norton did was a singular act, a gesture of unadulterated generosity that it's hard to imagine Joyce Maynard could ever understand. Norton does not know J.D. Salinger and has never even spoken to him. He simply respects a wonderful writer's desire to live outside the garish circus world of contemporary celebrity. A world that Joyce Maynard, with her memoirs and her Playboy interviews and her personal Web site, occupies all too comfortably.
Until she put J.D. Salinger's love letters up for sale, I wasn't nearly as down on Joyce Maynard as a lot of people who hated her memoir, At Home in the World, published last summer. Whether or not it makes the very private skin of people like J.D. Salinger crawl with dread, we're living in an age of the true, tell-all tale. If someone like Elizabeth Wurtzel can write an autobiography called Bitch--and even pose nude for the jacket-cover photo--without raising more than a couple of eyebrows, why shouldn't Joyce Maynard feel free to tell her own, actually interesting story?
There are many ways in which Maynard has had a life worth chronicling and considering: She was a precocious writer who while still a teenager published essays in national magazines--including the sprawling The New York Times Magazine memoir that first drew Salinger's attention. Later she became a wife and mother who wrote a newspaper column much like this one (except hers was nationally syndicated). Later still, she found herself struggling to understand and cope with the loss of her marriage, all while raising kids alone and managing to write a couple of novels. Such a story has the potential to add something valuable to the conversation a lot of us are having now about the struggle to reconcile feminism and family, creativity and duty, work and love.
But the linchpin of Maynard's own memoir isn't any of the relatively universal themes that her life suggests she's capable of responding thoughtfully to. Unfortunately, the book's focal issue is her love affair with J.D. Salinger. So a lot of reviewers found the memoir nothing short of dastardly, disgusting, a massive invasion of privacy, a sullying of the grand man's grand themes.
While so many pundits wondered about Bill Clinton--who was caught in a similar sort of scandal at the very moment Maynard's memoir was released last year--few reviewers asked of Salinger just what sort of 53-year-old man initiates a suggestive correspondence with an 18-year-old girl, invites her to visit him in his fiercely guarded privacy, does his best to remove from her the burden of virginity, and urges her to drop out of Yale and move in with him in his weirdo seclusion--not so that he might encourage her artistic talent, but merely so that she might provide him nine months of unreciprocated oral sex.
I felt pretty sorry for Joyce Maynard last year when her memoir came out, just as I felt sorry for Monica Lewinsky, trapped into betraying her own one-way love affair with a powerful man. It's not that I believed either woman to be an innocent victim of perverted lust; it's that I felt acutely for them the public anxiety and opprobrium attached to truth-telling when the teller of truth is an insignificant woman inappropriately attached to an influential man.
Memoirs such as Maynard's force us to ask ourselves a lot of different things, chief among them the question of why we continue to find other people's tawdry sex lives fascinating--especially when those people are doing nothing different than what most of us have been doing since high school, just not with famous people. But surely for anyone interested in art itself, a much more important question emerges from such memoirs: Who owns the right to a love story? Or, indeed, to any story of a relationship?
Is it an act of betrayal for George Stephanopoulos to write a memoir of his time as a trusted advisor in the Clinton White House? For Joan Crawford's adopted daughter to tell all the world of her privileged but warped childhood at the hands of Mommy Dearest? For John Bayley's beautiful Elegy for Iris to chronicle, no matter how lovingly, the descent into madness of his wife Iris Murdoch, once the most intellectually rigorous novelist writing in English? I think it probably is, and yet you'll read few reviews blasting such books as immoral invasions of privacy.
That sort of censure is reserved for the kiss-and-tell, sexual-love-gone-bad story that glitters the eyes of talk-show hosts and that readers consume voraciously. People in love exist in a heightened state of emotion and vulnerability, and most of us realize how unfair it is to subject to cold analytical scrutiny the behavior of a person temporarily crazed by feeling. We condemn the writer, the great betrayer, but we keep on reading nonetheless.
Love gone wrong is the great universal theme of human life, after all, and if we insist that turning failed romance into art is an act of betrayal, we would rule out of existence much of Western literature. Or if we say--as the scathing reviews of Maynard's book imply--that only the more famous or the more talented of the doomed lovers has the right to their mutual story, that Andrew Wyeth can paint all the revealing pictures he likes but Helga better not write a revealing memoir about posing for them, then we're guilty of a worse kind of unfairness and elitism.
I confess that it would be a lot easier to defend Joyce Maynard if she'd subsumed the story of her love affair with Salinger into the nicely muted shadows of a novel instead of laying them out in the cold light of a bare-bulb memoir. But I still say she has a right to tell her own story. And I say, too, that if a horny old man really wants to maintain his precious privacy, he should show half a grain of sense and seduce a grown woman instead of a child. At the very least not a child who had already published a 10,000-word memoir in The New York Times.
What I can't defend, from any point of view, is Joyce Maynard's decision to sell those letters. A tell-all memoir represents only one side of any story, and readers understand there's probably another side. But taking old love letters out of their moldering box and exposing to total strangers the incontrovertible evidence of lost, stammering love and inarticulate desire--to me, the writer of many profoundly heartfelt and potentially humiliating love letters, that's an unforgivable betrayal.
So in the end, the only hero in this saga is Peter Norton. Not an artist, not a writer tormented by his past--just a kind man who made a bunch of money and used it to preserve the dignity of a beloved writer by giving him back some letters he unwisely wrote 27 years ago. If he's half the man I hope he is, Peter Norton won't even read them
As I Please
By J. Dennis Robinson
Vol. 2, No 11, September 13, 1998
The Day Max Fell
If a writer knows a juicy story, is he or she compelled to tell?
The first time I saw New York Times writer Joyce Maynard, she was bouncing on her bed. I saw her through the window. It wasn't my fault.
Stop me if you think I'm on thin ice here, but I've got to get this story off my chest. It isn't about Joyce, really, but her father. It happened about 25 years ago and I've been keeping it quiet. Until recently, if you knew something private about another person, you held it to yourself. History was about significant events. At least, that's what I was taught.
Now, thanks in part to Ken Starr and Joyce Maynard, the gloves are off. On Friday, Mr. Starr saw fit to deliver two vanloads of "substantial and credible" material to Congress concerning President Clinton's affair with a White House intern. Earlier in the week we finally learned the gory details of Joyce Maynard's affair with author J.D. Salinger from her new book "At Home in the World." Both reports are graphic and the women, each starting-out obscure and about 30 years younger than their famous male partners, tell all. Now history knows more than it has a right to know.
The effect of too much detail, is more detail. To combat Starr's muckraking report, released to the world on the Internet, the president's lawyers fire off a giant written rebuttal. The media goes haywire. People take sides, and the resulting furor becomes the story. Same with the large-scale coverage of the Maynard book in the New York Times Magazine. (The following story in the same issue was on Starr.) Now the whole world knows that the 18-year-old writer was invited to stay at the New Hampshire home of the reclusive author of the cult "Catcher in the Rye." If you didn't see it in the Times, you can read it on her web site (joycemaynard.com) where you can also get an autographed photo for $25. Joyce Maynard says she was too nervous too technically consummate the relationship. Starr says Monica Lewinsky never made it to fourth base either. Nonetheless, the character of two living men are impeached, and millions of tiny useless words erupt across the media in response.
The resulting dialectic may be unstoppable. Does a public figure own any privacy? What is too much detail? Who decides what gets said? Can anyone trust anyone Are we all compelled to get naked and jump in? Stand back, because the compulsion is coming my way.
More than 25 years ago I was painting Max Maynard's house in Durham when I saw Joyce Maynard bouncing on her bed through the second-story window. Max was my literature professor at the University of New Hampshire, an amazing and tortured man. His face and body seemed chiseled from stone and he walked erect like a Roman statue set loose from its pedestal. His lectures were raptures on the past. He was a phenomenal teacher and an avowed heavy drinker. Max never made it beyond assistant professor at UNH and, in his mind, he was actually a painter, though his Cubist-style images, drawn from his Calvinist heritage won him few accolades.
Max's wife Fredelle was a successful magazine editor at Redbook and elsewhere. During this time, Fredelle published a book of her poetry and Joyce, just 18, had made it to the top as self-appointed spokesperson for her generation in the New York Times. The next year I graduated from UNH and, when Max heard I was attending summer classes at Oxford, he slipped me an address in England where he would be staying. He did not tell me he was getting divorced. He did not reveal his desperation. He stood like a statue, his lower lip curling down, and shook my hand warmly.
When my Oxford course ended, I took a bus to Max's place in England. He was staying in a lovely, rented townhouse with a garden and chicken pen. We drank vodka and he told me about his days as a cowboy, his childhood in Western Canada, his painting. We compared lives, me in my early 20s, he in his late 60s I believe. We drank more. Finally, he talked of his daughter Joyce, already famous for her relationship with Salinger. This was late 1973. Her affair may have been over by then. Joyce attended Yale, wrote her book "Looking Back," bought a farmhouse. Her writing will corroborate every detail.
Max was morose, fearful for his daughter amid instant fame, lost in his own lifelong quest for recognition of his own art. His paintings filled the house.
"We were meant to work our way up slowly," he told me referring to Joyce, "Not that fast." He searched in the sink for two clean plates among the piles of dishware. We ate vegetables fresh from the garden. He made an omelet from the eggs we found in the hen house. He refreshed our drinks.
"I want to visit her," he said at last, "but she won't have me. I would give up everything, even my painting, and fly back there in a minute. I'd move in and simply tutor, help her take all this success slowly."
Behind every tell-all story, I imagine, is another story, the one about the teller. There must be things we need to know about Monica Lewinsky and her childhood, about little Ken Starr and how his friends treated him in grammar school, about Clinton, about Joyce, about me, I suppose, now that I've been drawn into the fog of it all. Detail, like I said, demands only more detail.
On her web site, Joyce includes an essay called "My Father Was a Painter." She talks of two dads, a handsome energetic artist by day, a depressed drunken dad at bedtime. The pain is all there. We walk in and out of each other's pain, and some of us write it all down.
Just before Max fell, he took my hand in his. He had confessed, moments before, that he loved Joyce. "I don't want to see her fall from grace," he said. "I don't want to see her hurt."
I had an awful feeling when Max left the kitchen and wobbled toward the stairway that led up to the bathroom. I offered to steady him, but he would not have it. The statue was turning back to clay, and just as he reached the landing halfway up, I heard him stumble, heard the sickening sound of a man striking the floor, a soft moan.
The details are not important here. Imagine the assassination of Bobby Kennedy if you want a visual, the dark pool surrounding a stunned man staring at the ceiling. I had no idea a man contains such blood and, despite my hysteria, I got an ambulance. Max held my hand all the way to the hospital, held it during the quick stitching operation. In three days, his head still bandaged, he stole someone's bicycle and rode home from the hospital where I was still tending to things at the rented house. He made himself a drink and settled back to painting. I came home. If Joyce Maynard could keep her Salinger secret, I figured, I could keep Max's.
According to Joyce's web site story, her father had some success. Even later in life, in his 80s, he sold a few paintings. He had a big gallery show or two. He died shortly after the birth of her first son. She and her sister inherited Max's paintings. Most they sold, some she kept. Today, she writes, the paintings are a touchstone to the half of her father she adored. The missing half, perhaps, she searched for in other ways.
When we write about real events and real people, we shape the soft clay of history. Sometimes a writer makes a gentle flowing line, other times just a thumbprint, sometimes a deep angry gouge. All this furor over details is nothing new, but details demand details. Then the clay hardens, the bronze is cast and the new versions of our heroes are revealed, for good or ill. Maybe the fault is not with the storytellers, but with the notion that they, like the men and women they expose, are ever anything but clay.
Throwing the Book At Monica Lewinsky
By Richard Cohen
Friday, October 9, 1998; Page A27
I think I first felt sorry for Monica Lewinsky after reading that she approached Maureen Dowd in a Washington restaurant and asked the New York Times columnist why she was being so mean to her. (I felt sorry for Dowd at that moment, too.) After all, the world is full of cheaters and crooks, murderers of individuals and whole groups of people, not to mention the people who call at dinnertime to ask if you want to change phone services. Given all that, I can understand why Lewinsky must wonder why she is so hated. I wonder, too.
I take up her cause, if you can call it that, because somehow she is being demonized as so bad, so awful and so evil that her book, should she choose to write one, will not be touched by any reputable agent or publishing house. "I'm as big a whore as anyone," one book publisher told The Washington Post, "but I'd rather die first."
"We are not interested in a book by her," said David Rosenthal of Simon & Schuster. "I don't think any major publisher will sign her."
Well, why not? She's not the one who snitched on a pal. She's not the one who wore a wire, lured a friend to lunch and then blew the whistle for Ken Starr. Lewinsky's the one, in fact, who held out against enormous pressure to snitch on her one-time lover, the commander in chief, and only talked when she herself faced indictment. This is not a woman who went crying to the authorities or, as it happens, to book publishers.
Contrast her, if you will, with Lillian Ross, the New Yorker writer. Her recent memoir revealed that she had an affair with the late William Shawn, the magazine's storied -- and totally married -- editor. The book was published despite the fact that Cecille Shawn, the wife, is still alive and, we may presume, not thrilled that much of the world now knows her secret -- she was complicitous.
And what about Joyce Maynard? The one-time child wonder who went off to live with J. D. Salinger at the age of 18 (he was 53) recently published an account of their affair back in 1972. I can't say I didn't find an excerpt interesting, but I can say I thought it was an awful violation of Salinger's privacy -- a privacy, incidentally, he has gone to heroic measures to protect. Yet Maynard found a publisher, and the book was excerpted in Vanity Fair.
Finally, I cite "Underboss," the inspiring story of Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, who once was a member of John Gotti's mob and now is a member of the witness protection program. Not only was Gravano a mobster but he acknowledges involvement in "18 or 19 murders." For all his faults -- and you would have to concede he had some -- he nevertheless managed to get a publisher, HarperCollins.
By comparison, Lewinsky is a veritable Betty Crocker. She may not be a victim, but she's certainly been victimized -- and the story she has to tell might well be interesting. After all, we know nothing about her life these past nine months, nor even the sound of her voice.
What's it like to have to tell Ken Starr the most intimate details of your sex life? What's it like to go from obscurity to traffic-stopping fame literally overnight? What does she think the rest of her life will be like? Did the president ever promise her the Rose Garden?
Why the revulsion? Why the bitterness? It seems Lewinsky is being blamed for the information Ken Starr dragged out of her under the closest thing we have today to the threat of torture -- indictment, maybe jail and further pain for her mother. The details we now know, the smut of sex, come to us through the keen pornographic eye of Keyhole Ken, not because Lewinsky volunteered this stuff to make a buck. In fact, she apparently tried to induce Linda Tripp to lie to keep the affair secret -- promising her a share in an Australian cooperative apartment.
So, I say ease up on Lewinsky. Her life of late has been hell and she did what millions of women have done before -- and will do again. She is a cliche caught in a totally unprecedented situation -- a modern-day Lindbergh off on a flight to places no one has ever been before. Something in me feels sorry for her. Something in me also has something in common with her.
I hate Linda Tripp,
the yale review of books
Volume 1, n.º 4
For Jerry, With Love and Squalor
At Home in the World
by Joyce Maynard
Picador, 352 pp., $25
reviewed by Elizabeth Edmondson
Elizabeth Edmondson is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight and an editor of the YRB
Joyce Maynard's new memoir, At Home in the World, reads like an entertaining magazine article, —no surprise, considering that Maynard made her name through feature articles, columns, and a novel, To Die For, later a movie with Nicole Kidman.
So why has this seemingly benign book stirred up so much talk and controversy? Simple: half the boring details in At Home in the World describe Maynard's affair with America's most reclusive icon, J.D. Salinger. The perfect target for a literary tell-all, Salinger defined the psyche of the baby boom generation and then disappeared, leaving endless speculation in his wake. For a while, it seemed Maynard might follow the same path; in 1972, only months after her photograph on the cover of The New York Times Magazine made her the most famous teenager in America, she left Yale to live with Salinger in the backwoods of New Hampshire. Twenty-five years later, as Maynard speaks out about him for the first time, Salinger's name remains just as famous, consistently mysterious, and always controversial—qualities that sell magazines.
And books. Which led many in the literary world to protest that Maynard sold out, that she violated the privacy of a literary genius for profit and fame. Others are more generous, suggesting her motive was merely revenge.
Maynard anticipated these reactions. In the introduction to At Home in the World, she argues that exposure of this particular part of her life is a necessary step to making peace with her daughter and herself. Her website features "Joyce Maynard Interviews Joyce Maynard," where she defends the book and herself. This is not about J.D.Salinger, she seems to say, but rather about women who've "given up parts of themselves to please the man they love."
Despite such explanations and the hundred pages chronicling her childhood and married life, Maynard's memoir is explicitly about J.D. Salinger. Publicity would have concentrated on the Salinger connection in any case, but it happens to be accurate. Salinger, love him or loathe him, is the most interesting of what At Home in the World has to offer.
Maynard shows us little bits of the man that fit the fiction: his maniacal care with language, his rapport with children, even his skill at ballroom dancing. The richness of his letters evident even in her paraphrasing makes one long to read the real things. (The tragedy of this memoir is that Salinger would not, understandably, allow Maynard to quote anything he wrote.) And when Maynard remembers him saying, "But when they start in on your characters—and they do—it's murder," one feels a thrill at the closeness of this man to his fascinating creations.
Nevertheless, the portrayal of Salinger in At Home in the World does little to discount the most negative criticism of him. "Jerry" Salinger appears both ridiculous and cruel in this memoir, obsessed with the cooking temperature of his food and totally unsympathetic to the feelings or the youth of eighteen-year-old Joyce: after a year of living together he simply tells her to "go home" and refuses to speak to her again.
This presents problems for readers of Salinger. More than most authors, Salinger is identified with his characters. For those of us who fell in love with the narrative voice of Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, it is jarring to hear that same voice (and its similarity is the strongest argument for believing in the accuracy of Maynard's memory) at its most critical and caustic. Nevertheless, the strength of Salinger's voice survives even his own nastiness and Maynard's paraphrasing; he and his power with words dominate Maynard's memoir.
What's strange—and sad—is that At Home in the World didn't have to be this way. No nameless celebrity stalker, Maynard could have stolen the show. After all, how many Yale freshmen land themselves a lead article in The New York Times Magazine? But oddly like Salinger, Maynard's personal life can both resemble and overtake her written one. A member of the third class to include women at Yale, and the first to do so at Exeter, her life went on to exemplify many of the struggles and triumphs of women of her generation. Few lives could be more intrinsically interesting to a Yale co-ed my age with literary and historical interests than that of Joyce Maynard.
But after reading At Home in the World, I wanted to read more of Salinger, not Joyce Maynard. (How sad for me that more of the former is so much harder to come by!) I admit that I've always loved Salinger's work, but Maynard could have exploited that, using the ready-made audience of people like me who would read anything in the hopes of getting a few more words out of Salinger. She had a chance to convert Salingerians into Maynardites, but she took the easy way out, by trying to be liked instead of believed.
Memoirs are always a little self-ingratiating, but the really good ones get beyond this with critical perspective and a sense of humor. Maynard, by contrast, has no slant. She piles on the details of her life with Salinger and the events of her life without him without discussing what any of these might mean. Her final conversation with Salinger provides the title to her book, but little else; it reads like an account of a field trip for research.
The most interesting insights, in my mind, come not from Maynard but from a female classmate looking back on their peers at Yale. "Our feminist act was getting into Yale" says the friend. "The sexual revolution was happening. So we knew that now we could say yes. But we didn't really understand we could say no." Maynard's own experiences support these statements, but she seems unable to leave her own life long enough to confront these questions herself.
The failure to analyze is especially surprising given that the events of Maynard's life bear a striking resemblance to the standard magazine features and novelistic devices of the last thirty years. Claiming to talk about the details of women's lives, she laments alcoholism, anorexia, and breast implants as if we'd never heard of their dangers. The elements of her happy ending—moving to Northern California, glowing as her daughter explains a quilt to her women's studies class, her joycemaynard.com website—are recounted with total earnestness: no trace of self-deprecating humor here.
Maynard talks a lot about her earlier dishonesty as the spokeswoman of her generation: she wrote autobiographical articles without mentioning her turmoil over her father's alcoholism, her own eating disorder, or her marital problems. The implication of this admission, is, of course, that she is now being completely honest. But that takes more than revealing a life's worth of sexual history and eating disorders. A three-hundred-page memoir requires a deeper honesty than the little insights that make a good college essay, the easy truths and smooth style at which Maynard excels. A grown-up autobiography demands being a little critical, even self-critical. It certainly takes more than an extended public therapy session that decides Joyce Maynard is O.K. Had she gotten beyond such easy goals, she could have used J.D. Salinger and Joyce Maynard as springboards to valuable truths.
After all, the greatest revenge on Salinger would have been to make a masterpiece out of him.
St. Petersburg Times
Life is an open book for author, her fans
Joyce Maynard, who spoke of Salinger and self at a local bookstore, has her admirers.
By BABITA PERSAUD
St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 1999
TAMPA -- She's really into Joyce Maynard.
No, not Joyce Maynard herself, the now 46-year-old author who has written obsessively about almost every aspect of her life: her relationship when she was 18 with the reclusive J.D. Salinger; her money problems; her divorce; her breast implants; her dad's alcoholism; her abortion.
No, the person also into Joyce Maynard is Nancy Brodhead, a 44-year-old "career mom."
"I'm a screaming, major fan," said Brodhead, of Palm Harbor.
She's read almost all Maynard's columns when they ran in newspapers in the mid-'80s, logs onto the Web page, http://www.joycemaynard.com, almost every day and shows up whenever Maynard is in Tampa, including Wednesday night at Inkwood Books on South Armenia.
"I respect her," said Brodhead, sitting up front. "I think it took a lot from her to speak about Salinger. I think he took advantage of her and that she is a warm, caring person."
Others have not been so kind.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called her "leech woman," likening her to Monica Lewinsky.
Maynard detailed her relationship with Salinger in her latest book, a memoir, At Home in the World. She also put 14 letters from Salinger up for auction, claiming she -- now a divorced mother of three -- had to support her family and put her kids through college.
Fans see a different side than the critics.
They see her Web page, where ideas about writing, family and pie-making (Maynard's hobby) are exchanged.
"It's like a family," said Angie Jones, a 38-year-old aspiring writer and regular reader of the computer bulletin board messages. Sometimes arguments will break out on the bulletin boards, said Jones. Joyce will get on there and say, "Now, everyone be nice."
"She's like the mother," Jones said.
So, she's put her life on display -- that's what they like about her.
"She speaks to my generation," said Linda Rounsaville, 52, a mother and guidance counselor.
Casually, Maynard walks into the small bookstore in a sunny pink dress and flats.
"Oh hi," she says to the two-dozen people, mostly women, who have gathered.
She lets everyone introduce themselves and says she's not here to talk about Salinger. She's here to talk about "secret-keeping and shame."
Perched on a wicker barstool, she talks about growing up in an alcoholic family, about watching a lot of television, about writing for Seventeen magazine, and then the 1972 New York Times Magazine article about her generation that got her three enormous sacks of mail outside her dorm at Yale.
Letters from editors, and people wanting to take her to lunch. One of those letters was a one-page, typewritten note from Salinger that began, "I bet you are getting a lot of interesting mail right now."
Before long Maynard, perched on a chair, was talking about Salinger, about how she moved in with him and how she irritated him from day one. "At one point he said, "You're acting like a teenager,' " Maynard said.
And about how he kicked her out, about how they were on a beach in Daytona and he said to her "I think you better go home now," put a few $50 bills in her hand and sent her to the Daytona airport, back to New Hampshire.
She talked about her depression and obsession afterward. And about how, she said, she got out of it.
"I think fundamentally," she said. "I have been a survivor."
Thursday, May 20, 1999
The leech women
The New York Times
A colleague once brought me a present from Sunset Strip: a vintage poster of a B movie called The Leech Woman, a 1959 horror classic. The poster showed a voluptuous woman ensnaring a young man, with the legend: "LEECH WOMAN! She drains men of their love and lives!"
This breed of she-monster is making an alarming comeback. The leeching ladies are everywhere.
There is the Leech Woman of the boomer generation, the indefatigably exhibitionistic Joyce Maynard, who has asked Sotheby's to auction 14 romantic letters that J. D. Salinger wrote to her in 1972 and '73. The publicity-phobic writer has been the object of Ms. Maynard's leech for quite awhile.
Then there is the Gen-X Leech Woman, the indefatigably exhibitionistic Monica Lewinsky, who insists, all her alleged humiliation notwithstanding, on not going away. The object of her leech, which will likely also last quite awhile, is the privacy-phobic president.
These two highly skilled predators keep trying to extract celebrity from old love affairs that were not only brief and puerile but sexually tortured. They want to gain immortality -- and big bucks -- by feeding off the detritus of their trysts with older, famous men.
If they were microscopic organisms, we would call them parasites. They are worse than social climbers. They are sexual climbers.
Throughout the long, dark ages of undisputed patriarchy, women connived to trade beauty and sex for affluence and status. But aren't we supposed to have evolved beyond these sorts of crass trade-offs? Aren't we supposed to make our own way, without reverting to pillaging the identities of men, and peddling their love messages, to inflate our own identities?
Monica got huffy on a recent publicity tour designed to drum up flagging sales of her book when interviewers had the temerity to ask about the book. As she hawked her affair, she took offence at the suggestion that it was all that is interesting about her. It is an essential characteristic of the Leech Woman to believe that she is independent, that she has a self beyond the self that preys. She is a cross between a vamp and a vampire who wants to be treated like a movie star.
As Tom Shales, the TV critic of The Washington Post, pointed out after Ms. Lewinsky's smirky "Slutterday Night Live" appearance, as he called it: "This is one of the most discomforting things about Lewinsky's protracted romp in the limelight; she doesn't seem to know what she's famous for."
It is truly frightening to think that Monica might try to feed off her affair with Bill for as long as Joyce has fed off hers with Jerry.
After writing a memoir about the nine-month romance she began as a Yale student, the 45-year-old Ms. Maynard has now found yet another way to recycle her ancient escapade. Sotheby's has estimated the letters of the author who hated price tags will sell for $60,000 to $80,000. The world's most confessional woman says she has to betray the world's most unconfessional man because she needs money to pay for college for her children. Malarkey.
I went to Sotheby's to have a gander at the notorious letters. The exercise was fascinating and a little creepy. The 53-year-old author kept warning his 18-year-old friend about the ways that celebrity and conspicuousness can warp talent. Now those warnings against exploitation are being exploited. His counsel for privacy and subtlety are being publicly and unsubtly sold to the highest bidder.
The typed and handwritten letters have a swift arc, the usual one. He goes from wanting to meet her to meeting her, from asking her to "stop -Salingering me" to "Jerry S.," to "XXX, J.," to "It's late, Kiddo, and I'm tired."
Like the president, the author of The Catcher in the Rye was both mentor and seducer. In one letter, Salinger advises his Joyce to write a play in which she can star. Poor man. That is exactly what she did. She has made the story of their romance as long-running as Cats.
There are those who say these women were victims of older men, and so have a right to revenge. But experiencing the ordinary brutality of love does not make one a victim. It makes one an adult. Or it should.
Why Does the American Press Hate Joyce Maynard? by Jules Siegel
Read this article here
Other pages on this author in this site here and here and here