Joyce Maynard Barbara Wilcox - Essay

Barbara Wilcox

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Edgy and incisive, [in "Looking Back" Maynard] stated, no, proved, that the most difficult task facing the teenager today was to keep from growing up old. Public reaction was incredulous….

That edge is gone now….

[Baby Love's] "modern" tone is fashionably uninflected; in direct contrast to her earlier work, it deals almost entirely with sexual matters observed with unbearable clarity, as if someone had taken an Ann Beattie novel and drawn dirty signs all over it.

Now, no one works better in this close style than Beattie, who follows her characters through situations other writers despair of describing…. But when the people in Baby Love aren't having sex, Maynard loses interest and cuts away. Therefore it's too easy not to empathise with them; there are too many people and they haven't got anything else in common.

The only character of abiding interest, with any sort of interior life other than what TV has given him, is a cackling madman named Wayne confined to a mental hospital after killing the pregnant girlfriend he's had locked in his room…. The impression Maynard gives is that women are either neurotic bourgeoise or small-town hicks. All are passive, all consumers, waiting for men, babies, clothes and unhappiness. Two forces enslave these women: media and sex. Everything Maynard means to imply about this twin bondage is true. But it does not make for easy or pleasant reading. By now, better writers have been here before.

Barbara Wilcox, "Books in Review: 'Baby Love'," in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1981 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 5, October, 1981, p. 27.