Norma Fox Mazer Barbara Wersba - Essay

Barbara Wersba

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Consider for a moment this plot: a 14-year-old girl who lives in a crowded city is by accident swept back into the primeval past. A world of cave men. At first horrified, she gradually learns to become one of them, discovers the joys and sorrows of primitive life and finds that she has bridged a metaphysical river where past, present and future are one. Suddenly she is returned to the modern world, but no one believes in her journey…. She is sent to a psychologist and learns to behave like a "normal" person. But the memory of an earlier, more beautiful life haunts her, and she prays never to forget, never to become ordinary…. Her story ends on a note of pain.

In synopsis, I find this idea fascinating. But in Norma Fox Mazer's rendition something has gone wrong. It is not only that ["Saturday, the Twelfth of October"] is too long …, but that the mechanics which make it work are not dramatic. All science fiction and fantasy demand a crisis through which a human being can journey from one world to another. But our young heroine's dilemma is no more crucial than the fact that her brother and his friends have read her diary (a document fraught with the fear of menstruation). Enraged by this, she flees to a nearby park, leans against an ancient boulder—and is transported back to a world of innocence.

The premise does not succeed, and no one is sorrier than I, for Mrs. Mazer is a dazzling writer and brings to her work a literacy that would be admirable in any type of fiction. Her sense of character and place are expert, her use of suspense masterly and her descriptive powers superb. But one wonders why menstruation looms so largely in the plot, why it has been chosen as a device to show the innocence of the cave people and the frozen sophistication of the girl. One also wonders why—over and again—biological realism is forced upon stories that do not need it. (pp. 12, 14)

Barbara Wersba, in her review of "Saturday, the Twelfth of October," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 19, 1975, pp. 12, 14.