The dark heart of a 1960s Levittown family is artfully revealed.
Shapiro (Life and Love, Such as It Is, 1999, etc.) chronicles the high-school years of Maude Pugh, the misunderstood daughter of a self-important artist and a socially awkward mother. The Pughs live in a house that seems to be the clone of a thousand others, but on the inside is utterly unique; her father has painted all the walls black to better display his artwork. Maude’s best friend Weesie thinks the house is a marvel, but Maude yearns for the understated elegance of Weesie’s upper-class Long Island manor. If the interior of Maude’s house is unusual, the interior of her family is even more so. Her mother and father split up over the course of the narrative, and her older brother Seth, unabashedly idolized by her parents, has disappeared from their lives, leaving Maude to bear the brunt of her parents’ brutalizing emotional eccentricities. Maude, chafing at her family’s restraints, secretly applies and wins a scholarship to attend Bay Farm, an elite private high school. Once there, Maude is introduced to both class ambition and class division: Her parents are uncomfortable because she is moving up the social ladder; her classmates fetishize her because she is an artist’s daughter with all of the requisite quirks; and Maude herself is caught between the knowledge that she doesn’t really belong among the very wealthy and a new sense of class difference. When Maude loses her scholarship and enrolls in community college, she finds herself even more of an outsider. Although the plot appears to follow the usual coming-of-age story are by concentrating on a typically angst-ridden adolescent girl, it has none of the loss-of-innocence rhetoric or false family resolutions that characterize the genre. Shapiro’s portrait of Maude is knife-sharp; she completely inhabits the consuming inner world of a painfully intelligent adolescent girl, showing Maude’s every mood, thought and desire with piercing clarity.
Bracing and raw portrait of the inner life of a directionless, if passionate, suburban rebel.