Annie Gottlieb

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

[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."

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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 wide world of TV, Miss Maynard has little sense of other points of view, and when she says her and her friends' childhoods were more traumatic than most," one can't help thinking of Watts or Rosebud or Da Nang and wondering why it is so hard for TV-bred children to know what is experience and what is no more than information…. It is information that Joyce Maynard's generation is wise and weary in—they're pretty sheltered and innocent of experience; and she is imperfectly, flickeringly aware of this. But even where her limitations annoy they exemplify; she shows as much by her unawareness as she does by her awareness, and I think she knew this and willingly took the risk of exposing herself as typical—in which there's a curious courage.

Another Joyce Maynard is struggling to emerge here, a dissenter, a dropout from all the obsessive tuning in she admits to….

Annie Gottlieb, "Struggling through the Sixties," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by the New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 22, 1973, p. 26.

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