PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS: A Journey through the 1950s by Nora Sayre

PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS: A Journey through the 1950s

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A richly documented history of American culture in the 1950s. Sayre (Running Time: Films of the Cold War, 1982, etc.), a longtime film writer for the New York Times, was a new graduate of Radcliffe College when the Korean War ended. The child of a literary family--her parents were journalists, her godfather the novelist John O'Hara--Sayre traveled easily among the writers of that time, and some of the best parts of her memoir are fond reminiscences of friends like H.L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, E.B. White, Cyril Connolly, and James Thurber. She also offers notes on younger contemporaries like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Dylan Thomas, Gregory Corso (who often, she writes with great good humor, tried to relieve her of the bacon from her BLT in times when neither had money for food), and the recently deceased Sally Belfrage. Sayre shifts into a more analytical and less anecdotal mode when writing of the politics and culture of the day. Her accounts of widespread racism, anticommunist extremism, the emerging ""cult of the teenager,"" and rock 'n' roll culture are valuable, and she offers funny, dead-on takes on such passing trends as ""intensely competitive, wrathful gourmet cooking,"" where ""your hostess would tell you angrily that it took three days to make the pat‚, or that she'd been up all night with the aspic, or that stuffing those deviled eggs had nearly driven her insane."" Sayre writes with an easy, pleasant style, and the overall tone of her reminiscences is that of a favorite aunt telling family stories--not a bad approach at all, given the 1950s' undeserved reputation for having been a drab, conformist, utterly uninteresting time. Good reading for literature and history buffs.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.