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Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen Paperback – July 1, 1997
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The ex-prom queen of the title is Sasha Davis, a rebellious Midwestern girl who becomes one of the few women in her high school class to make it east for college. In grad school, she marries a fellow student, then trades school for clerical work. Trapped in a loveless union, Sasha has affairs, divorces ... meets a new love, marries him, has two children and finds this second, more "l;modern" union as difficult, in its own way, as her first. The book made a big splash when it was first published in 1969.... -- Entertainment Weekly
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I've read some of the very critical or snarky or disinterested reviews by contemporary readers and I was shocked by them. I guess those readers wouldn't understand the context of 19th century novels any better than they understand Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen but at least they would understand that they were reading about a time and social reality different from their own. It's sad to see them talk about a book that seems to have been assigned reading but for which they have no context.
Sasha, the heroine, is an intelligent woman who grows up in a middle class family in a suburb of Cleveland in the 1950s. But early on, she understands that no other fate is possible for her other than marriage and motherhood. And in order to achieve that, she has to be beautiful. "By the third grade, with every other girl in Baybury Heights, I came to realize that there was only one things worth bothering about: becoming beautiful."
Sasha does become beautiful -- but she's never fully convinced that she is. Self-disgust is always lurking, ready to to take over her mind. She also grabs on the idea that her beauty will have faded and be over by the time she hits 30. This makes her desperate and she responds by giving herself sexually pretty much to any man that asks. From age 15, when she is crowned Prom Queen, Sasha seems to feel that she has only one thing to give -- which is sex. Occasionally she manages to resist the most loathsome suitors but more often, without joy or pleasure, she succumbs.
Incidentally all the men in this book are portrayed with withering contempt, including both of her husbands. Men are seen as without exception as borderline rapists (and sometimes they cross the border). They take what they regard as theirs without consideration -- just because it's the way it's always been. Sex is a form of power rather than intimacy and everyone, including Sasha's, parents, conspires to keep the system the way it is.
Sasha drifts from one rotten affair to another in America and Europe. She marries a boring history professor, eventually wriggles free of him only to fall into the arms of a second husband who seems more sympathetic until the two children arrive, at which point he is revealed as a selfish and self-indulgent bully not that much different from the rest.
It's kind of hard to like Sasha because she doesn't much like herself. And she is a bit of a quitter too. She doesn't really fight -- she leaves. She makes scant effort to gain the career her talents deserve and though she rebels intellectually against the system, her rebellion never takes the form of action.
This is an interesting and entertaining novel and a revealing slice of social history. It could have used a more feisty heroine -- but perhaps it would not then have been so honest.