Domestic Affairs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Parenting is the “in” topic of the moment, as the large generation of baby boomers begins to reproduce itself. Books appear constantly with advice on everything from nutrition to child psychology to which videos kids should watch to how to teach your toddler to play the violin. A welcome byproduct of this trend is that there is a growing market for ruminations on the art of child rearing by those who have done, or are doing, it.

DOMESTIC AFFAIRS is such a collection of thoughts on children, marriage, and the family. Writer Joyce Maynard is rearing three children with her artist husband in rural New Hampshire, and she describes the joys and problems of maintaining a family, both physically and emotionally, in a series of essays grouped roughly by theme and based on her syndicated newspaper column. For a parent, she makes the best kind of friend--she does not presume to advise the reader what to do; instead she asks herself questions about what she has done with her life and explains the decisions she has made about her priorities.

Extraordinarily frank, Maynard does not hesitate to reveal her weaknesses and mistakes in a way that few writers could manage. She nevertheless commands the admiration and liking of readers/parents, who will recognize situations she describes and be provoked to examine their own lives. Those who have chosen to have children will understand and identify with her joy in her family, and, while there is no substitute for direct talk with fellow parents, there are also few fellow parents to whom one will feel closer after contact.