BABY LOVE by Joyee Maynard


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Maynard won attention in 1972 with a precocious piece (""An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life"") for The New York Times Magazine, and this short first novel displays some of that article's wry delivery and observant, detail-fixing shrewdness. Otherwise, however, it's a disappointing debut: a glib, center-less book which slides around uncertainly, from the shallows of flatly ironic socio-reportage to the empty pretensions of contrived theme-weaving. The setting is a small, drab Massachusetts town, where the initial focus is on four very young women--lower-middle-class, TV-obsessed, energized by naive fantasies: there's fat Wanda, unwed mother of newborn Melissa, who worries about stretch marks before her first postpartum bowling-and-quick-sex date; 16-year-old Jill, unhappily pregnant via automobile sex with insensitive boyfriend Virgil; blithely unwed Tara, breastfeeding mother of Sunshine; Sandy, mother and wife at 18, trying to make her life as picture-perfect as a TV show. And, for unsubtle contrast, Maynard also offers two wealthier, slightly older, baby-less out-of-towners: trendy, summering N.Y. editor Carla (she once had dinner with George Harrison), who suddenly burns to be pregnant while living in a borrowed house with artist-lover Greg; and whining Ann, who buys a house in which to eat yogurt and play C&W records while getting over a rotten affair. . . and who draws amorous attention from both Sandy's homy young husband and Jill's itchy handyman-father. About a dozen characters, then--revolving on a merry-go-round of mini-vignettes as Maynard (mixing clinical detachment, srnirky satire, and wan sentimentality) defines them all chiefly in terms of social behavior: half the words in the book seem to be brand names, TV programs, song titles, and names of celebrities. (TV-brainwash, above all, is trotted out ad nauseam: ""Doris likes listening to Hollywood Squares while she irons. That Paul Lynde is something else. . . . Now they're sitting in the kitchen watching $20,000 Pyramid. What would Wanda do if she had $20,000? She would buy a moped and a color TV. . . . They were watching CHiPs when her water broke."") This sort of journalistic sketching doesn't go very far, of course. So Maynard is soon adding still other characters and resorting to farce and melodrama for dramatic/thematic development: Tara plays host to a do-it-yourself delivery by some nouveau-hippies (""O.K., everybody. . . . Who wants sautÉed afterbirth for breakfast?""); Mrs. Ramsay, the crazed paternal grandmother of Wanda's baby, plots to get possession of the baby and also winds up setting fire to the clinic where Jill is having an abortion (with oafishly ironic results); and, most crudely, Ann is stalked by an escaped lunatic who killed his lover because she was pregnant. All in all, it's a desperate stew which, despite all the effortfully patterned variations on motherhood, seems to have nothing special to say about ""baby love."" And though there are a handful of very funny lines--as well as a few stereotype portraits that (like Lily Tomlin's best impersonation-sketches) score points on sheer recognition-value--this will substantially entertain only those readers who look to fiction for a smugly superior, once-over-lightly view of other people's lives.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1981
Publisher: Knopf