Going Backwards Essay - Critical Context

Norma Klein

Critical Context

Going Backwards is one of Norma Klein’s most powerful novels; it is a personal statement as well. She acknowledged that Dr. Goldberg was a fictional counterpart to her own father, a psychiatrist, while Gustel was a rendering of her grandmother. Dr. Goldberg’s decision had been Dr. Klein’s as well, and his daughter had learned of it much as Charles did in the novel. With her narrative, Norma Klein was obviously working through her feelings about her own family secret.

From the beginning of her career, Klein demonstrated her willingness, even eagerness, to violate taboos. Her bold exploration of the varieties of adolescent sexuality attracted attention, and criticism, but she further startled her readers by introducing even more delicate subject matter. Family Secrets (1985) explored the fragility of contemporary family structures in the era of repeated marriages and no-fault divorce. Older Men (1987) examined obsessive, quasi-incestuous family relationships. At the time of her death in 1989, she was working on several innovative projects. A first-person narrative of gay sexual awakening was in the works. The problems of young people with physical and mental disabilities were to be explored realistically. Klein sometimes gave way to her propensity to sermonize on behalf of liberal causes, even to the artistic detriment of her fiction, and she could be wrathful toward those she considered reactionary. She must certainly be remembered as a pioneer in the realistic and sympathetic treatment of the issues facing urban youth in the last half of the twentieth century: sexual exploration, racism, suicide, mental and physical disability, regional and ethnic conflicts, teenage pregnancy, and child pornography. Compassion was the dominant note in her writing; it is almost impossible to find a truly despicable character in any of her books. Her genuine love for the fictional personalities that she created, much more than the alleged shock value of her books, strongly defines her work.