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At Home in the World: A Memoir Paperback – October 29, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Joyce Maynard's memoir At Home in the World is an attempt to make peace with herself. At times, however, it's hard not to see it as an act of war--on her parents and, most notably, on J.D. Salinger. Maynard's account of her year-long relationship with the reclusive writer is the centerpiece of the book and the publicity pivot on which it turns. And how not? She first encountered Salinger when he wrote her a fan letter following her world-weary but not necessarily wordly wise New York Times Magazine cover piece, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life." He was then 53 and, as Maynard paraphrases, wanted her "to know that I could be a real writer, if I would just look out for myself, as no other person is likely to." By the time she was 19, she was living with the increasingly controlling Salinger and doing her best to adhere to his regimens, from homeopathy at any price to a mostly macrobiotic diet heavy on frozen peas. (Lamb burgers, formed into patties and then frozen--before being cooked at a dysentery-friendly 150 degrees--also figure heavily.)

What's worse, he does his best to turn the hugely driven young woman into a mistrusting, publicity-shy prig, not to mention helping her perfect her already anorexic bent. Maynard is such a skilled writer that it's hard not to take her side as the relationship falters. In fact, even when it's going well, it's not easy to sympathize with a man whose idea of an endearment is, "I couldn't have made up a character of a girl I'd love better than you." But Maynard is as hard on her younger self as she is on the great man. Though she had published intimate essays since her early teens, and long been feted for her "honesty," it has taken the overachiever many years to realize that she had carefully left out her most personal burdens--her father's alcoholism, her mother's nighttime "snuggling" and overwhelming intrusions, the distance between her and her older sister.

Still, At Home in the World is more than a clearing-house for past parental and amorous wrongs. It's a cautionary tale about using language and the pretense of truth to obscure key realities. One of the many curiosities in this discomfiting book? Salinger dreamt that he and Maynard had a child together: "I saw her face clearly. Her name was Bint." The World War II veteran then looks up the word. "What do you know," he says. "It's archaic British, for little girl." Maynard never, even now, has questioned his definition. In fact, it's slang, used especially in World War II, for prostitute. When Salinger forced the 19-year-old to clear her things out of his New Hampshire house, she was still unaware of the word's force. "On the window of Jerry's bedroom, where the glass is dusty, I write, with my finger, the name of the child we had talked about: BINT." --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Maynard, novelist (Baby Love; To Die For) essayist, columnist and Web-page chatteuse, was a freshman at Yale in April 1972 when the New York Times Magazine published her cover article, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life." Of the hundreds of letters she received, one from the reclusive J.D. Salinger, then 53, praising her talent and warning her against the dangers of early success, struck a particular chord. Maynard quickly wrote back and, following a summer of letters, phone calls and visits to Cornish, N.H., she dropped out of Yale and moved in with him. Maynard's observant, straight-faced presentation of what are nonetheless often hilarious events chez Salinger has to be one of the shrewdest deflations of a literary reputation on record. What's plain and most damaging is the nature of Jerry's interest in Joyce, who looked about 11 and who arrived for her first visit in a dress almost identical to one she wore in first grade. Maynard poignantly describes her alienation and isolation, which Salinger reinforced before cruelly discarding her. Unable for legal reasons to quote Salinger's letters, Maynard nevertheless makes the reader see why his words so captivated her: "I fell in love with his voice on the page," she says. Once she moved in, however, Jerry began to sound like an aging Holden Caulfield, abrasive and contemptuous. Maynard takes too long setting up her family history pre-Salinger and far too long recounting her life since, inadvertently revealing why Salinger and others seem to have wearied of her. But her painstaking honesty about herself lends credence to her portrayal of Salinger as something worse than a cranky eccentric. This will be a hard story to ignore. First serial to Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (October 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312202296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312202293
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (219 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've been a writer all my life. Over those years, I've worked as a newspaper reporter, columnist, radio commentator (I was Liberal-of-the-Day on CBS radio at the age of 19, on a show called Spectrum) . For eight years, I published a syndicated column about my life called "Domestic Affairs", but when my life got increasingly complicated (I got divorced) and my children grew to the age where it was no longer a good idea to write about them, I ended the column and turned to writing fiction. One of my novels, To Die For, was made into a terrific movie, directed by Gus van Sant , in which I can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman's lawyer.

My memoir, At Home in the World, published in 1998, engendered a fair amount of controversy at the time of its publication --still does, in some quarters, because I chose to write about events in my life that involved a famous and revered older author, J.D. Salinger, who had decreed that I should never speak of him. This past September a new edition of At Home in the World was brought out, with a new introduction (and for the first time, I recorded the audio book of that one.) It's a story I hope will speak to many , but particularly to women.

In recent years, I've published four more novels--The Usual Rules , The Cloud Chamber, Labor Day, The Good Daughters and my latest, After Her. (A number of my older books , including a collection of my newspaper columns and my first novel, Baby Love, are available on e-book now too), as well as a number of essays that can be found in various collections. (Read over the titles--aging, divorce, anorexia, miscarriage, disastrous midlife dating--and you may get a picture of my life, I suppose, though a number of the more cheerful aspects --more enjoyable to live through, but less good as material--would be missing.

Labor Day has been made into a film, directed by Jason Reitman , and starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. If you like the novel, I think you'll be happy with the film. I certainly am.

You can learn more about my work, and my tour schedule (also my writing workshops on Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala) on my website,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Marian Leighton on December 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
Though not someone who has followed all of Joyce Maynard's career, I still found myself immersed almost from her opening paragraphs. There is a lot here, some disturbing, some thought-provoking, and always fascinating. I was surprised, as I was one who, almost on principle, felt J. D. Salinger's privacy, if it's so important to him, should above all not be violated. However, I realized as I went along, that this is really missing the point and is also implicitly saying that Salinger, as Great Writer, is more important than others in his life. But this IS Joyce Maynard's life, not J. D. Salinger's, though he does figure in her life for 10 months and she learned a great deal about herself from analyzing that relationship's hold upon her.
I do not see that she has exploited her relationship with him; I don't even see that she has particularly said horribly negative things about him, for that matter. I also feel that all the focus on this book as being about Maynard's sense of "victimization" by a "dysfunctional family" and an older man, J. D. Salinger, are simply way off the mark and totally missing the main points of her story. She does not portray herself as a victim and her self-analyses and self-criticism ring true as evidence of her having made some hardwon peace with her past and having reached a maturity that has often not seemed characteristic of her work in the past.
I also think there is a great deal more humor and a great deal more irony than people have generally been writing about in reviewing this book. The theme of authenticity vs. inauthenticity, for example, is an important one, whether one is critical of Maynard's narcissism or not. J. D.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By xanthus32 on March 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book for $5 on the strength of having recently seen "To Die For" on video. I did not know who Joyce Mynard was, nor Jerry Salinger (exccept as the author of "Catcher in the Rye"). At then end of this book I felt that I knew them both. Maynard's story is not an expose of Salinger, but a narrative of how a woman can be seduced by one man's charismatic power, and sublimate her own talent in order to have that man's approval for her own existence. Maynard's story is a modern version of the Svengali archetype. However it is also a story of women's strength and survival, in spite of her wanting to return to the hoped-for fairy-tale of what might have been. Even when confronted with the evidence of Salinger's predilection for young women, and his betrayal of her, Maynard still teeters on the disbelief that we are individually special to one such man. Women everywhere harbour the image of the ideal relationship, whether it is with a Salinger or a Steve (Maynard's ex-husband). In the end, we realise, as Maynard has shown, the only person on whom a woman can rely is herself. "At Home in the World" is a microscopic examination of a woman's most important relationships - with her mother, her sister and her daughter. Maynard's honesty in telling her story is the strength of this book.
I felt a similar resonance on reading the work of the English writer, Anne Oakley, in her book "The Men's Room". Oakley, too, writes from the heart of her personal experience. Although Maynard refers to Sylvia Plath, I have always felt that Plath contrived a safe distance from her reader audience. Maynard does not do this, and neither does Oakley.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 20, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a don't miss, one of the best autobiographies of the last decade. Joyce Maynard's subject, here and elsewhere, is Joyce Maynard. It is a subject she knows better than any other and, like the high Romantics, her study of the self (at its best) ripples out to encompass and illuminate a larger world. Here she is definitely at her best.
The experiences with Salinger add subsidiary interest and a touch of scandal, though her experiences within her family are also instructive. The hissy fits thrown by some reviewers demonstrate their preference for ignorance and secretiveness when one of their icons is in the dock. In an age of unending self-indulgence and self-reflection, not to mention the near total politicization of letters, one can hardly exaggerate the degree of hollowness in the claims that one should consider the art alone and leave the private activities of the artist behind closed doors.
As one of Amazon's astute reviewers noted, if you don't want your activities to end up in print, don't be so foolish as to seduce and abandon a journalist.
The most delicious dimension of the book is its subtext. What Joyce Maynard is, of course, doing, is rewriting CATCHER and recording the details of the discovery of the biggest phony of them all, the landsman as virtual child molester.
The blame-the-female-victim response of reviewers one might expect more from serves as a kind of coda, one that Joyce Maynard was surely shrewd enough to anticipate. They went for the bait like hungry trout, demonstrating their own phoniness and complicity in a literary culture obsessed with victimology but unable to stomach its realities when it hits just a little too close to home.
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