AT HOME IN THE WORLD by Joyce Maynard

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book'Em...take our poll!

At Home In The World

(March 2, 2006) At Home In The World is a memoir. Joyce Maynard writes, "I wanted to tell the story of a real woman with all her flaws. I hoped, by doing that, others might feel less ashamed of their own unmentionable feelings and secrets." In 1972, as an 18 year old college freshman, Maynard appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine: her reflections on "life" was their feature article. This article catapulted her into a correspondence with the literary icon J.D. Salinger. By that summer, she had moved in with him.

Maynard grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, the daughter of a university literature professor, frustrated painter and alcoholic father and a multi-talented, intellectual, ambitious, stay-at-home-by-default mother. She had an older, aloof, bookworm sister. The Maynards thought of themselves as a world unto themselves. Their family dynamics permeate this memoir just as they haunted the author's life. Written as a 48 year old, divorced mother of three living in California, Maynard chronicles her one year with Salinger and the 30 plus years since then.

Unanimously, we felt that this book was a wonderful read. Some remembered the original article -- Maynard as the "voice" of a generation -- and were surprised to hear her reveal all its falsity. All of the group, and our children as well, have of course read Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye. He emerges on these pages as a very negative figure: cynical, predatory, eccentric and abusive.

Was Joyce Maynard an "innocent victim"? If so, whom was she the victim of? Salinger? Her family? Her own feelings of alienation? Is she really as ingenuous as she would like us to believe in this memoir? Her sister Rona tells her as an adult "You take up… too…much…space." The group wondered whether we would actually like Joyce Maynard if we knew her.

Book-'Em's evening was fairly random and unfocused. We reacted rather than discussed. Some of the group's commentary: "She's pretending to be deep but is really superficial." "I felt like it was just narrative; I didn't feel the emotion.", "Writing is just a craft, a skill, for her, not an art." We all agreed, "She may be using us but that pales in comparison to how Salinger used her!" "She's a bit of a nut job; even without Salinger her life would have been troubled."

The Maynard family is a very intriguing cast of characters. They are colorful, each extremely accomplished and resourceful. Both parents and sister Rona continued to evolve and "re-invent" themselves throughout their lives.

Overall, At Home In The World is recommended to all readers. It is well written, interesting and engaging. As a club selection, for Book-'Em it did not lend to thoughtful discussion or analysis. But it may well have inspired us all to re-read A Catcher In The Rye.

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