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A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century : A Memoir
Born into "a certain kind of family"--affluent, white, Protestant--Jane Vandenburgh came of age when the sexual revolution was sweeping the cultural landscape, making its mark in a way that would change our manners and mores forever. But what began as an all-American life soon spun off and went spectacularly awry.
Her father, an architect with a prominent Los Angeles firm, was arrested several times for being in gay bars during the 1950s, and only freed when her grandfather paid bribes to the L.A.P.D. He was ultimately placed in a psychiatric hospital to be "cured" of his homosexuality, and committed suicide when she was nine. Her mother--an artist and freethinker--lost custody of her children when she was committed to a mental hospital. The author and her two brothers were raised by an aunt and uncle who had, under one roof, seven children and problems of their own.
In the midst of private trauma and loss, Vandenburgh delights in revealing larger truths about American culture and her life within it. Quirky, witty, and uncannily wise, A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century is a brilliant blend of memoir and cultural revelation.
In her memoir, novelist Vandenburgh (Failure to Zigzag) tells of her dysfunctional Protestant family, rebellious adolescence, a flirtation with lesbianism, a survived car crash and famous friends. She begins the narrative at age nine, barefoot and scrappy, skipping school and wreaking unsupervised havoc with her two brothers (aged 13 and five) in 1950s Redondo, Calif. Their bohemian bliss sours when their father, who had been arrested several times for hanging around gay bars, commits suicide, sending Vandenburgh's already fragile, mentally unstable mother off the deep end. She loses custody, and Jane and her brothers are sent to a suburb of L.A. to live with their aunt, a fervent Christian who has four children of her own, as well as an adulterous husband. Then comes suburban ennui and rebellion: short skirts, shoplifting, watching porn. Vandenburgh's story is engaging, though feels familiar-in fact, Vandenburgh has written parts of it before (Failure to Zigzag features a crazy, often negligent mother; The Physics of Sunset focuses on an adulterous affair in Berkeley, Calif.). In a neat narrative twist, she has an affair with a person who ends up being the publisher of her book.
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February 28, 2009
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