Monday, March 23, 2009

Thumbs up for A Pocket History of Sex

Jane Vandenburgh's A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century: A Memoir is really two books in one. The first half of the book, titled "The Pull of Gravity," is a coming of age story, detailing Jane's childhood in Southern California in the 50's. It's the type of family drama full of broken people (closeted homosexuals, loveless marriages, alcoholic grandparents, children with undiagnosed mental problems...) where you turn each page with a sense of dread because you sense tragedy lurking at the turn of the page. "The Pull of Gravity" follows Jane's life until approximately the end of high school, and was a pleasure to read. The prose is sharp, the characters are vivid, and the relatively mundane subject matter felt fresh.

The second half of the book, titled "A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century," is less successful. It largely skips over her 20's, focusing on the later years of her life. Partly this portion of the book was a chore to read because it dwelled on excruciatingly boring parts of Jane's life, such as caring for a friend with cancer. But the real problem is that the young girl I rooted for in the first half of the book turned into such a hateful adult. When Republicans (and moderate Democrats) speak of San Francisco liberals belonging to the cultural elite, this is who they mean: a drug-using, serial adulterer with such emotional problems that she's allergic to the sun, who rants about the "asshole alcoholic who stole the presidency" and who cuts a short a trip to the circus with her children because she feels the performers are exploited. But on the strength of the first half of the book, which I'd call one of the best coming of age novels I've ever read, and portions of the second, I give A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century: A Memoir a thumbs up.

You can get a second opinion at the NY Times, and the book is 34% off at Amazon.

*See more of my reviews here.

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