(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Kinflicks, Lisa Alther’s first published novel, is a funny, realistic account of a young woman growing up in the 1960’s and of her struggle to come to terms with her mother’s approaching death. Virginia (Ginny) Babcock’s story is told in chapters which alternate between her own narrative of her growing up and third-person narrations of the present (about 1974) in which she returns to her Tennessee home to be with her desperately ill mother. In both story lines, the emphasis is on Ginny’s attempts to define herself sexually and as a member of a family. Neither struggle concludes with any final definition.

Ginny rejects her parents when she is a teenager. She is repelled by her father’s rigidity and her mother’s fascination with death, and she is not close to either of her brothers. Her rebellion takes different forms, but once she is in high school her search for definition is largely in terms of her sexual behavior. Her mother tries to ignore Ginny’s activities, while the father is enraged by what he learns.

Ginny’s early efforts to find a sexual definition are based on her popularity in high school. She is the flag twirler with the marching band and the girlfriend of the school’s athletic hero. In a series of very funny scenes, they experiment with a variety of sexual activities, always stopping short of intercourse, but one side of Ginny’s nature rejects conventionality, and she loses her virginity with a...

(The entire section is 445 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Ginny Babcock Bliss’s mother is dying of a blood-clotting disorder, and Ginny comes back to Hullsport, Tennessee, to stay with her. Ginny leaves her husband, Ira Bliss, behind in Vermont, with their two-year-old daughter, Wendy. In fact, Ira made Ginny leave their home after finding her with another man. Ginny thinks back on the steps of her life leading up to where she is at the time. Some of her memories are like the home movies, or “kinflicks.” She occasionally thinks about growing up with her two brothers, but she is more concerned with the past twelve years, from her first serious boyfriend through the few years of her marriage.

Her first boyfriend was Joe Bob Sparks, a football star with very little intelligence. Their times together were happier for him than for her; she dated him primarily because he was popular and dating was what everyone did. Ginny’s next boyfriend was Clem Cloyd, a motorcycle hoodlum whom she knew since childhood. Her parents strongly disapproved of her relationship with Clem and looked for a way to break them up. Again, Ginny was not in love with Clem; instead, he was someone with whom she experimented sexually and whom she used to rebel against her parents. Their relationship ended when Ginny was seriously injured in a fall from Clem’s motorcycle.

After the accident, Ginny’s parents decided to get her away from Hullsport by sending her to Worthley, a highly reputable women’s college in Boston. Ginny objected to this move, but she went anyway, probably because she had no compelling reason to stay in Tennessee and because protesting took too much energy. At Worthley, Ginny met Miss Helena Head, a philosophy professor who became her mentor. Under Miss Head’s tutelage, Ginny became increasingly interested in philosophy and cultural events. She threw herself into her studies and pondered the questions of the great philosophers. She abandoned her emotional life for a mental one, as Miss Head had done, and thought about everything with detachment.

Another woman who lived in Ginny’s dormitory challenged Ginny during this cerebral stage. Eddie Holzer, an earthy, rebellious student, began discussing with Ginny the ideas of philosophers, arguing that denying the world of emotion was just as limiting as denying the world of the mind. Their...

(The entire section is 946 words.)