Joyce Maynard Annie Gottlieb - Essay

Annie Gottlieb

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Looking Back" Joyce Maynard] tries to be both exemplar and critic, to trace her own and her contemporaries' lassitude and precocious world-weariness to the common experience of "growing up old in the sixties."

That meant not only the profound trivializing influence of the media…. In school and out, it [also] meant regimentation by insecurity, relentless pressure toward refuge in a group mind, toward the illusion of an averaged-out "we" with which each individual kid could identify by adopting the symbols the media offered him—in exchange for a cut of his rich, jingling allowance.

Joyce Maynard suffers as a writer from that averaged-out "we" as she does from other generational syndromes of which she's more aware: short attention span, fascination with banality. She often talks in group images, in generalities, and while these will be familiar to anyone from a similar background, they produce a soft thud of recognition instead of the sharp, pleasant shock of glimpsing one's self in another's individualities. It is this that makes the book's flaws as telling as its insights.

"Looking Back"'s limitation is also its value: It is a criticism from within, and as such it must be respected, for if its insights are often obvious … they are obviously personally arrived at, and they can be wonderfully penetrating and aphoristic….

The book's limitations also annoy. In spite of the...

(The entire section is 403 words.)