Joyce Maynard Catherine Tennant - Essay

Catherine Tennant

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Looking Back Joyce Maynard] is concerned not so much with personal experiences—she uses these to illustrate her points—as with the common influences (the media in all their various forms) which have gone to shape her generation's outlook on the world….

"My generation is special because of what we missed rather than what we got" is, it appears, her favourite theme. In other words, It, whatever "It" was, is all over…. Meanwhile all that remains in this world—where the strongest of ambitions is to get away rather than ahead, and to buy land in Oregon or Vermont "where manure is cow shit not bovine waste"—is a rather bland interest in "Herman Hesse, marijuana and yoghourt", a good record collection and a socially acceptable stereo set….

Looking Back is a sociological document about a person who perhaps has given too great an importance to just such documents. Her direct and funny perceptions of personal experiences are too often blurred by the attempt to define them in generalized terms, to see them as the fate of everyone born in New England in 1953. This seems a narrowing viewpoint to take, although it helps to justify the sense, shared with many other generations, of being born too late, so there's no point trying.

Catherine Tennant, "The Road to Anaesthesia," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspaper Ltd. (London) 1975; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3815, April 18, 1975, p. 418.