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At Home in the World: A Memoir Paperback – Bargain Price, October 29, 1999
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
Although Maynard was a successful journalist and novelist for 25 years prior to the publication of AHITW, she also wrote extensively about her own life, in essays and in her syndicated column. Although her choice of subject is not everyone's cup of tea, I happen to like it a lot. She's a fine essayist.
So, when she wrote this memoir in her forties, what did she write about? Well, the book deals with her childhood, her feelings as an outsider, and the dark secret of her father's alcoholism. Maynard's relationship with her mother is, perhaps, given the most number of words in the book. As for Salinger, he seduced her and then, nine months later, dumped her in a really cold and cruel way. It was a devastating experience for her -- not because he was famous, but because of her youth and the fact that the 53-year-old Salinger became a guru, of sorts, to her. So she writes about that. She also writes about her marriage and it's ultimate failure, and her children. And many other things.
Writers write about their own lives. And that's what Maynard has done here. And she has done it well.
A thought: Maynard has long been a somewhat polarizing figure. People often love her, or hate her. But it's odd that she's been criticized for doing what ALL writers of memoirs and autobiographies do. I don't recall Nora Ephron being demonized for writing about her ex-husband, or Jim Bouton for exposing what went on behind the scenes in baseball. If it's wrong for Maynard to even WRITE about Salinger, is it wrong for ANYONE to write a critical biography of a living person?
Finally, if Salinger was so intent on keeping his privacy, he'd have been wise to avoid seducing -- and abusing -- young memoirists.
I'm glad I did, if for no more reason than I can stop judging Maynard in a negative light.
All too often women are told to protect the nasty secrets of the men who exploit them -- and for 25 years, Maynard did just that. But, one day, she decided, "No more," and told her side of the story (Salinger was still alive when this book was first released) -- an incredibly brave act because she must have known that she would have been vilified by the literary community and people like me. And so she was and still is.
Salinger was a predator of young vulnerable women, just barely out of childhood -- this fact has been well documented and will be examined more in the coming years. He "groomed" young women through letters of flattery and undying love, snaring them into his trap. Then once he used them, they lost their youth appeal, and he would unceremoniously dump them and move on to the next victim, leaving behind a trail of wounded women and shattered lives.
Before the wicked Salinger darkened her life, Maynard, in the right place at the right time, was a golden girl, with the literary world practically at her feet and on track to a great literary life. For a life with Salinger, she threw away a college education and a plum job at The New York Times. She moved into Salinger's house in Cornish, where she, like Salinger, lived as a recluse.
The girl who went to Cornish was not the same girl who, 10 months later, returned to the world: scorned, sick, heartbroken, and confused.
From the ashes of her life, Maynard has salvaged somewhat of a literary life, with several books and gigs. But it sounds as if she lost the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular career that could have been. Still, she has enjoyed what most writers do not: a writing career that actually pays.
Has she lived a perfect life since Salinger? Of course not. It's a wonder she could have led any kind of meaningful life, but there seems to be a underlying strength to this woman who seems to have navigated several more traumatic events since Salinger.
Most importantly, the literary community has finally discovered why Salinger insisted on a reclusive life: because an open-book life would have brought his predatory acts against young women into the light and ruined his "great literary legacy."
Joyce Maynard, you are a brave woman who deserves a medal for writing this book. Thank you.
Technical issue: the Kindle version of this book is rife with typos: missing punctuation, spacing errors, wrong words (for example, "Ferry" for "Jerry"), and missing text. My rating is NOT based on these technical issues because I have formatted my own books on Kindle, and I know how glitchy this platform can be.
Mingling the history of the 60s, 70s and beyond with her personal history brought this reader back to times I lived through and helped me remember many long-forgotten experiences from my own past.
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you simply MUST read this honest, heart-wrenching, beautiful, brave, --and...Read more