Wednesday, August 18, 2010

At Home In The World, by Joyce Maynard

I'm sure a lot of people come to Joyce Maynard's book At Home In The World looking for a sleazy inside scoop on the author's relationship with J.D. Salinger, but I came to it through The Lucy, who called it an amazing story. (I responded with a recommendation of George Weigel's Faith, Reason and the War Against Jihadism. It's what makes the relationship work.) I agree with that assessment, but it really has less to do with Salinger at all and more with Maynard's willingness to face up to the realities of being a teenager, a writer, and a human.

Maynard had an article published in the New York Times Magazine entitled "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back At Life," which caught the eye of Salinger and touched off an extremely messed up relationship. However, Maynard's book is about much more than that relationship, and that's why it's so interesting. She grew up in a very disciplined family, where academic achievement was held above all and deep neuroses ran through the entire family tree. This upbringing left her feeling isolated and unsupported, setting the stage for Salinger's control of her life. Maynard seems to have been drawn to memoirs throughout her writing life, and in At Home, she documents her moment of realization: she wrote deeply, but never about the most painful realities of her life. I hope that writing At Home helped her realize that exploring those dark corners of one's life makes for some of the most interesting and most human writing available.

It's a sad book, really - Maynard struggles with an abusive relationship, an eating disorder, sexual dysfunction, mental health challenges - but it is beautifully written, and that skill makes it an important book, particularly for young women. It's so difficult to gauge your own feelings and emotions, and having this kind of raw insight into another person is invaluable. Maynard has done something very brave here, and I commend her for it - the result is top notch.

1 comment:

  1. I overheard someone say once that it's good that many famous artists are tortured because that way the world got to have their creations. I thought that was horrible. I'm also bothered that things like this make interesting reading but if she had one or two people in her life that were sincerely interested in her mental health (and really meant it) she probably would've been happy but less interesting. Many people say they're supportive but kind of beg off when it gets difficult. I understand that reaction but it could save a lot of people from really bad experiences such getting into abusive relationships and then abusing yourself. Learning a lesson you could live without sucks.