Norma Klein

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Lucy Rosenthal

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What a winning novel Norma Klein has written—for young people of all ages and for free spirits everywhere. Reading Give Me One Good Reason—her first full-length adult novel—is like spending time in the company of an open-minded, tactful, decent, and generous friend….

Her output is an example of reciprocity between children's and adult literature. In Klein's children's books, her respect for her young readers is marked by her inclusion, in a fashion totally integral to the story, of preoccupations and materials which used to be the exclusive preserve of so-called adult novels: illegitimacy …, divorce or separation …, sexual intercourse between unmarried adults…. In Give Me One Good Reason, Klein shows her adult readers, in turn, an affection along with an ability to beguile and convert the mood by employing those story-facilitating devices—things happen constantly and for the most part end happily—that are the traditional hallmarks of children's literature.

In this newest novel she touches such adult preoccupations as affection between the sexes, relations between parents (wed and unwed) and children (small and grown), relations between sisters and sisters-in-law and brothers, adults and children not their own, and—as they say—love and work. Given her technique, it's hardly surprising that the novel has something of the character of an adult fairy tale. Things frequently work out for the beleaguered heroine so much more happily or conveniently than they often do in life: a day-care center for Gabrielle Van de Poel, the young unwed and pregnant heroine of the story, is just around the corner from the scientific laboratory where she will continue to work at her good job; money is no object and the lack of it no handicap; Rudolf Biedermyer, the kind cabdriver who stops for Gabrielle and her two Great Danes on a terribly rainy New York day is really a doctor taking time off to mull over vocational options (would he rather be an artist?) and later to court Gabrielle; Gabrielle, in the absence of a husband or a helping man, has parents and other relatives who can backstop her as baby-sitters and in other ways once her child is born; and so on. Klein is not offering here fairytale anodynes or whitewash of adult misery. Her purpose is partly instructive: she is saying, one suspects, that this is how society, with a few changes, could work, in some instances ought to work, and in some already does….

Pregnancy, outside of marriage or in ambiguous marital circumstances, is a recurrent motif of Klein's writing. Far from being obsessional, it seems to serve the purpose of exploring the problem of a woman's free exercise of options in a changing society, of a questioning by her women characters of the institution of marriage, or at least of having the women in these stories bring out into the open a reluctance to marry or an ambivalence about marriage women may have always felt but until recently did not feel free to express. The motif of pregnancy here also is perhaps a metaphor for creativity: how do we live life's possibilities to the full, whether literally pregnant or not? Pregnancy, the impending birth of a baby, makes the drama of these stories impend also….

In Give Me One Good Reason, Gabrielle has no qualms about her relation to her work. She is an established and talented biochemist. And she has no qualms about her pregnancy. "This must be one of the most planned born-out-of-wedlock babies in the history of man." What she has qualms about is marriage. (p. 36)

[This book sees] the virtues of different life-possibilities and lifestyles,...

(This entire section contains 760 words.)

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of the kinds of social extensions human beings, free and not-so-free, are making and can make in a changing society. The life-possibility toward which Gabrielle moves is the one of full and deep commitment to a loving man….

Give Me One Good Reason is a happy book and a humane one. Its humanity offsets a certain lack of prose distinction, though the prose is more than serviceable. Klein's novel is more life-like than literary, a storyteller's book, not a poet's, the work of a writer engaged more with life and its possibilities than with language and its resources for language's own sake. Certainly a women's literature has room for both or all kinds of writers, and one is grateful for Norma Klein.

"I hate happy endings," Gabrielle laments at book's end. I love them, and in this instance believe in them—and in this book. (p. 37)

Lucy Rosenthal, "A Singular Parent," in Ms., Vol. II, No. 7, January, 1974, pp. 36-7.


Eileen Kennedy


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