Reading DOMESTIC AFFAIRS by Joyce Maynard is like being enveloped by a big warm blanket for the duration. The book is based on Maynard's essays written for her then-syndicated newspaper column. She writes about her children, diapers, potty training, the time her mother knit a miniature sweater--with toothpicks--for a toy bear.
Her writing is amicable, soothing, warm--as if we were seated in a kitchen, nibbling on a Sunday brunch of warm cocoa and orange marmalade on French toast, as we chat about our lives. And yet, it is cogent and cohesive; her themes, perceptive, well-developed. Her writing is a bit wordy. But I like it. She writes that her writing is just about her life.
"Now," she writes, "I document ordinary daily life."
But it is charming and absorbing, to peek into Maynard's life. She grew up in a small New England town, more rural than suburban. Making pie crusts was both a hobby and a passion. ("I know by heart the Joy of Cooking recipe for blueberry muffins and the names of all the seven dwarfs and eight reindeer.")
Maynard writes about the births of her three children, the perennial balance of work and family, and her childhood home. A few of the chapters include other topics, such as "Babysitter Problems," Christmas in her household, tomato sauce, dolls and doll-houses, "How I married Steve," "Baby Love," and a wistful look back at her sixteen-year old self.
In an iconic anecdote, Maynard describes her first meeting with Peg, the woman who was to make her slipcovers: ". . . Because I was still pretty busy getting the children out the door to preschool and second grade, getting the lunch boxes packed, the library books gathered up, I had to ask Peg to wait a minute."
Once the kids were dispatched to school, she said to the slipcover maker, "I'm sorry. . . It's pretty hectic around here in the mornings. Getting three children dressed and out the door. . ."
To which Peg replied, "I know. . . I had nine."
A precocious child, Maynard first published at age fourteen. At eighteen, she wrote the celebrated New York Times Magazine essay, "An Eighteen-year Old Looks Back on Life"--to be perceived thereafter as the `voice of her generation.'
Later, her memoir AT HOME IN THE WORLD revealed she had lived with renowned novelist J. D. Salinger for almost a year. He was fifty-three years old; she was nineteen!
DOMESTIC AFFAIRS is a lovely, likable book that "validates"--to use Maynard's word--mothers, babies, children, family life--all things domestic. The anecdotes are endearing: when she makes tomato sauce, or spends an hour readying the kids to play in just-fallen snow only to return indoors after "exactly eight minutes." Or when she reads the story of Babar the elephant to her young son. The book feels warm, cuddly, comfy--like a teddy bear or like "the Lazy-Boy" recliner chair she so coveted.
Whether unconventional or traditional, Joyce Maynard's life is full, rich, interesting.
--Yolanda A. Reid
Author of PORRIDGE & CUCU: MY CHILDHOOD