This is, to my mind, a mediocre novel. I know a lot of people really loved it, but it didn't hold my attention at all. In fact, I don't think I even fThis is, to my mind, a mediocre novel. I know a lot of people really loved it, but it didn't hold my attention at all. In fact, I don't think I even finished listening to it. I started before Christmas, but when I got back I switched to something else....more
This is a fun little book. Basically, Allison Klein writes about the roles of women in sitcoms in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. She focuses on a handful ofThis is a fun little book. Basically, Allison Klein writes about the roles of women in sitcoms in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. She focuses on a handful of shows to illustrate the metamorphosis of women's roles from the typical 50's sitcom mom (June Cleaver, etc.) to the independent women that came with and after Mary Tyler Moore. She addresses women's relationships with men, children, careers, and their own bodies. Though there has been linear progression of women's roles by no means, Klein argues, women have in each decade been able to push a bit farther on television, in one arena or another.
Parts of the book were a bit lost on me, as a result of having never or rarely seen the shows Klein analyzes. Though she talks about a lot of shows, she focuses heavily on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, Roseanne, Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, Friends, and Sex in the City. Of these, the only one I ever watched often was Roseanne (though I am, of course, aware of the premises of the other shows and have seen a few episodes of Golden Girls and Friends). Her points seem well argued, though, even for someone who isn't familiar with all of the characters about who she writes. She views certain things a bit optimistically, I think, but the claims she makes are generally well-founded.
Though she also talks about examples of non-beautiful TV women (Roseanne, Maude) and women aging on TV (Maude, everyone on The Golden Girls), Klein focuses the bulk of her book on TV women moving from a single type (married upper-middle class housewives with children) to multiple types (married or single, mothers or non, various careers, various classes, etc.). The title character, Murphy Brown, illustrates single career womanhood and single motherhood. Roseanne and Grace from Grace Under Fire illustrate two types (married and unmarried) of working-class motherhood (and both work, at least in part of the shows' runs, in traditionally masculine occupations). The women on Friends and Sex in the City show sexual liberation and updated attitudes towards dating. And so on. While many of these arguments leave me with a feeling of "well, duh," they are still interesting to read.
There are issues I think Klein could have addressed that she does not. In particular, I would have liked to see a chapter on younger women on TV. Not only is Roseanne interesting, but so are Becky and Darlene. How does having these newly feminist TV moms change TV daughters? She alludes briefly to My So-Called Life and The Gilmore Girls, but doesn't go into any detail. But perhaps that would be another book. I also found her treatment of body image (particularly weight) and aging on TV to be more cursory than I would have liked.
All in all, this book is worth reading. Klein draws on some good books for her background and theory, and she has obviously done her homework in terms of watching countless hours of sitcoms. It's nothing revolutionary, but if you are a TV-lover, it is fascinating....more
This is a great book. You should read it. Seriously.
Deborah Digges is a single mother of two boys. This story is about her youngest son, Stephen. WhenThis is a great book. You should read it. Seriously.
Deborah Digges is a single mother of two boys. This story is about her youngest son, Stephen. When the book starts, Stephen is 13 and he's in a lot of trouble. He's associated with gangs, doing drugs, carrying weapons, skipping school, in trouble with the police, the whole nine yards. Digges is desperate not only to turn her son around, but to regain her close relationship with him. In her desperation, she turns to whatever ideas she can grasp--Stephen is sent to live with his father, Digges tries to be more stern, military school is even considered. There are serious repercussions to Stephen's behavior and to Digges responses to it, including the ultimate break up of her second marriage.
Then, with the help of an unconventional therapist, Digges and Stephen both learn to stop trying to be the people they aren't and to embrace themselves and each other as the people they are. They move out of the city, they adopt a passel of pets, including a very high-maintenance bulldog with epilepsy. Digges serves as a foster parent to a friend of Stephen's who has been kicked out by his own parents. And Digges stops trying to get Stephen to obey rules that are only there for the sake of society and serve no real purpose. Digges focuses on what is actually fair and actually necessary. So while the teenage boys may stay up late and there may be dogs on the beds and cats coming in and out of the windows, some kind of peace is restored.
And it turns out OK. Stephen graduates from high school and goes to college. Trevor, Digges' foster son, gets his GED, gets a job, and moves into his own apartment. The animals are happy and live good lives. Digges eventually even meets another man and at the end of the book the two of them are cohabitating.
Digges writes about parenting, both the joys and the sorrows, in a way that is both realistic and enthralling. She truly loves her sons and loves being a mother to them, and she truly wants Stephen to do well not for the sake of her own pride, but for himself. She's not perfect and she never indicates that she thinks the route she takes is the only way to deal with a "difficult" child. She shows a willingness to learn right along side her son that I can't help but think is the hallmark of a great parent. The book is inspirational in that sense.
Another thing about it that is really wonderful is the importance than the Digges' animals play. Getting the first bulldog puppy, G.Q., is Digges first original and true to herself idea for how to help Stephen, and it does. The later adoption of Buster, the epileptic bulldog, with all of his many needs, cements Stephen's willingness and ability to be a responsible person. Both Digges and her son are clearly people who respond better to animals than they do to other people, and the book shows the beauty and grace in that, never even allowing for the idea that it is some kind of psychopathy.
Delinquent kids are very rarely given any kind of chance in our society. The book's characters, particularly Stephen and Trevor, are constantly butting their heads against a system that "has them pegged" and actively discourages them from succeeding in the ways in which they are able. It is a rare parent, however, who both assists her kids in bucking that system and still expects responsible and fair behavior from them. Digges never lowers her expectations of Stephen or Trevor, she just reevaluates what is really important, and it is both instructive and inspiring to watch that play out. I ended the book really feeling for the Digges family, happy to hear of both Stephen and Trevor's accomplishments, and seeing something of my own mother in Deborah, which is a very high compliment....more
Dorothy Allison published Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature in 1994, only a couple of years after her amazing first novel, Bastard Out ofDorothy Allison published Skin: Talking about Sex, Class, and Literature in 1994, only a couple of years after her amazing first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina. I've read the novel probably three times, but for some reason it never occurred to me to look for further work by Allison. I guess I assumed that she, like Harper Lee, had probably given so much to write that amazing novel that she didn't have any writing left in her.
I was so wrong.
I got an inclination of this a couple of years ago when, on the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Allison's 1995 memoir, Two or Three Things I Know For Sure. Just as much as Allison's fiction, and in many of the same ways, her memoir was stunning, beautiful, mean, and hard to get through. I read it twice back-to-back. Then I didn't read anything else of Allison's.
Until this week, when, on a whim, I picked up Skin from the library. Collected and published a year before the memoir but spanning the decade or so before, the essays in Skin cover much of the same ground, but in a different way. In Skin, Allison reconciles her life and work as a feminist activist with both her radical sexuality (Allison is a lesbian who identifies herself as a "pervert" a "femme," and a masochist) and her Southern working class background. In the essays, she speaks passionately and honestly about two things most people can never be honest about: sex and money. She also talks a great deal about writing and what it means to her to be a writer as well as a working class Southern lesbian feminist.
Skin is one of the most seeringly honest and brave books I've ever read (and it is in the company of Allison's other work in that category). Allison is insistent that you absorb her truth when you read her books, face it head on and deal with it, and I admire that about her. When she speaks of her family and the poverty and pain in which she grew up, she paints her relatives neither as martyred deserving poor nor as indolent trash, but as people in often desperate situations doing what they could. It's rarely pretty and often heart wrenching, but it is real, and because it's so real, it is easy to recognize oneself in Allison's stories.
The more surprising thing about Skin, though, is not Allison's discussion of her childhood and class background, which is ground she covers in Bastard and in Two or Three Things, but her discussion of her sexuality. She not only speaks candidly of her own sexual preferences and needs, but is also honest about how alienated she was and is from many feminist and lesbian circles due to the way she expresses her sexuality. Allison is critical of "political lesbians" and of the way women repress their sexual desires in general. She writes not hesitantly but insistently about violent sex, sex toys, and pornography. She claims her sexuality, like her class, not as something at odds with her feminism, but integral to it. Reading it is a revelation.
Reading Skin took me from being a fan of Allison's work to being a convert to her brand o feminism. I plan to immediately read Trash, her first book of short stories (1988) and follow it with her most recent work, the novel Cavedweller (1998). Then I'll wait with baited breath for the release of her next novel. Reading Allison's work makes me not only want to live honestly, but to write honestly. I can't emphasize strongly enough what that's worth....more