Suzanne Freeman

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 501

The issues in Baby Love—babies, love, sex, youth, music and television—have always been Maynard's favorite subjects, but it is here in this shift to the novel form that she finally deals with them best. Fiction has taken away both the cutesiness and preachiness that a young memoir-writer is liable to. Gone, as well, is the kind of misspent world-weariness that would prompt a 19-year-old to talk about "growing up old." Nothing about Maynard is weary here. It's a new world and her writing takes on a new energy. For the first time, she is free to fill her work with people of her own invention. And fill it she does.

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At best count, there are 17 major characters in this book. (p. 3)

Maynard gives us these characters in small, sharp flashes like something we'd see while flipping the knob on a TV set. We come to know these people through a kind of pop shorthand—by the clothes they choose: Erik Estrada T-shirts, 1940s dresses; by the music they play: Dolly Parton singing "Coat of Many Colors," Linda Ronstadt belting out "Blue Bayou"; and, by the objects they keep: Depression glass, water beds, marijuana in a wooden box with birds painted on the lid. All of these artifacts, as well as the writing style which allows them to be noted so meticulously, bring to mind the work of Ann Beattie….

But Joyce Maynard's writing does not have the pallor of imitation. She makes these characters all her own. She is especially good at describing the babies in this book. They are slack-muscled, fluffy-headed, fist-waving babies, babies who make small kissing sounds as they nurse. They are as real as any other characters and they come complete with their own special artifacts—duck sweaters, clown mobiles, blueberry buckle desserts. This is what baby love is all about and Maynard makes it clear from the start that it's not like any other love.

Unfortunately, what's clear at the start is not necessarily always clear at the finish. Seventeen characters may, all of a sudden, equal 17 loose ends, especially in a first novel. Baby Love's jacket copy promises that all these lives will "intertwine at a moment of extreme vulnerability," but instead they seem to spin more frantically and not much closer together as the novel nears the end. Maynard, sensing trouble perhaps, does what she knows best: she creates yet another character. Val, who makes her debut in the last 50 pages, is a spoiled pseudo-punk Manhatten teen-ager. She is as finely sketched, as true, as all of Maynard's people, but her place in this book is never revealed. She becomes one more distraction, one more loose end.

What this all comes to is that, despite the strong writing, there is finally just too much dial-flipping, too many stories to watch. Maynard's show simply fuzzes away as if the picture tube had been overworked. (p. 11)

Suzanne Freeman, "Madonnas of the Television Set," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1981, The Washington Post), August 30, 1981, pp. 3, 11.

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