VIRGINS: Growing Up Catholic by Caryl Rivers

VIRGINS: Growing Up Catholic

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Motley episodes from senior year at a parochial high school in the mid-1950s--with too much Porky's-style farce, too much unearned sentimentality, but a fair measure of genuinely amusing, authentic (if familiar) recollection. The narrator is Peggy Morrison, school-newspaper standout at Maryland's Immaculate Heart High. Her best chum is literary, almost sophisticated Constance Marie Wepplener, a source of sex education for innocent Peggy. (""When I met Con, freshman year, I thought an orgasm was some kind of big monkey."") Through the year, however, Peggy finds herself more and more preoccupied with childhood pal and longtime necking partner Sean McCaffrey, who--despite being handsome and (within firm bounds) amorous--is all set to start priesthood training after graduation. And the most strained, slapsticky vignettes here involve the cartoonish doings of Sean's puritanical, rightwing father: together with a mad monk, Dr. McCaffrey stages an anti-cleavage assault on the dress department at the local store (""We are examining your frocks to see which ones the Blessed Mother would approve""); he joins a mad White Russian cossack in a virulent, racist, anti-Communist rally. Meanwhile, too, the young folk are staging intentionally--effortfully--comic stunts: Scan poses as a girl to attend a foolish beware-of-sex lecture (and is lecherously pawed by a crudestereotype hypocrite); somewhat more original is the kids' creation of a fake St. Leon (as in Trotsky) for the newspaper's obligatory ""Saint's Corner"" column. But journalist Rivers (Aphrodite at Mid-Century) does much better in the non-farcical, more credibly humorous/raunchy moments--mostly involving Con and Peggy's ambivalent quest to lose their virginity, with awkward help from a couple of Annapolis students. (Con succeeds, but with medical-emergency side effects; Peggy recoils from her exhibitionistic swains, ultimately sharing first sex with tender Scan . . . who'll nevertheless go to his priestly doom.) And though Rivers' attempts to inject a few serious moments--a classmate suicide, the death of Peggy's father, the brutality of Con's father--are limp and incongruous, there's enough closely-observed, likable/earthy material here to please the looser contingent within the Catholic-adolescence readership.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's