Joyce Maynard is at home in her world
So you are an 18 year old girl who, according to a photo and an article, has been crowned the voice of your generation; you grab the attention of a world-famous 53-year-old literary sensation. You match; he invites you to live with him, as we do. Your mother, a brilliant but upset writer herself, wouldn’t be happy if this was a scam. It is not a scam. You are his finest creation, and the Great Man wants you. So you deposit your scholarship at Yale; your mother sews an alphabet-print A-line dress for you that makes you look 12 years old; and you present your lean body (your mother is also very proud of it) at the big man’s house. Your favorite pre-school teacher will take you there. No one thinks this is a bad idea.
Then the strangeness occurs. The famous writer makes you eat undercooked meat and teaches you how to throw up, because he seems to prefer that pre-teen body. Passing himself off as a “worried friend,” he takes you to a homeopathic doctor to cure you of the vaginismus you have while you are with him, making sex painful or impossible. The treatment does not do the trick, so after nine months you are kicked out. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anyone for very long afterwards because you carry the deep and lasting secret of a non-functioning vagina.
Many years later you are writing about it all. And understandably, the famous writer faces the wrath and condemnation of an indignant public who see her goosebumps and greed for what she is.
Or wait, no, that might not be how it turned out. Perhaps, instead, you are canceled. After your memory At home in the world comes out in 1998, you appear at a writers’ conference, and a whole fleet of eminent authors comes out. You auction the letters the great man wrote to you to pay for your children’s college education. The purchaser, a die-hard fan, publicly announces his intention to return the letters to their author, JD Salinger. At the time, Maureen Dowd called you the âleech woman of the baby boom generationâ.
âYou’re right,â says Joyce Maynard, as I suggest that perhaps her origin story with JD Salinger would be viewed very differently in the #MeToo era. âThere’s a lot about the #MeToo movement that I welcome and celebrate, but of course, it’s not retroactive. The criticism, she suggests, will always be there: ‘I’m locked in there. ‘Google universe as someone who slept with Salinger … whose main function as a writer was to convey marginal information about the really important person. “
Yet despite everything that has happened since, she is proud that at this time her body had its own wisdom. âVaginismus means you don’t feel safe. Let your body say, âI don’t think so. Before Salinger, Maynard had never slept with anyone, never seen a naked man. âMy father was in an advanced stage of alcoholism. My mother didn’t protect me. My English teacher from Phillips Exeter delivered me to him. The only protection I had was my own body which stopped, closed, closed.
This may have been the last time a part of Joyce Maynard closed.
Maynard zooms in with me from his lakeside house in Guatemala; the occasion is the publication of his tenth novel, which comes out next month. Count the paths is a vast saga of marriage and family, with all its love, loss, betrayal, disappointment and forgiveness. At 67, Maynard is graceful and restless, gesturing dramatically as she talks, bending and unfolding her legs. She has the same saucer eyes that looked from the cover of the New York Times Magazine in April 1972. She is wearing yoga pants and a Johnny Was embroidered tunic that looks so festive that I spend an hour after our call to find her on eBay.
âI have a reputation for being this over-sharper,â Maynard says. âI find it a fascinating term. What does over-sharing really mean?
Well, that means you’ve chronicled every infidelity, abortion, rape, betrayal – “one damn furball at a time,” as writer Caitlin Flanagan put it. This means that you do well-meaning, but arguably impulsive and sometimes regrettable things (adopting two Ethiopian sisters and then repatriating them occurs to me) and then put them on the page. This means you don’t disinfect the crap, both figuratively and, in Maynard’s case, literally. (She talked about the fecal transplant she gave her dying husband to cure him of a raging infection, and yes, it worked.) And if you do all of that really well, like Maynard does, it means you can make people uncomfortable. Among her colleagues in memory, she is in turn mocked and envied. I’m too embarrassed to tell him this, but over the years, when I feel like I’ve written something a little too personal, my standard question to editors is, “Am I becoming Joyce Maynard? “
In fact, becoming Joyce Maynard was not that easy. She grew up in New Hampshire, the child of “brilliant artistic minds, passionate and completely removed from their careers,” she says. âMy job in life as a youngster was to make my parents happy in any way I could; to keep my dad from drinking and give my mom the kind of success she had missed.
She began to be published in magazines at the age of 14. Professional success came easily; it was family happiness that remained elusive – and indeed, she said, it was the driving force of her life. After briefly retiring to a New Hampshire farm after her affair with Salinger ended, Maynard moved to New York City and eventually became a reporter at age 21 for the New York Times. One day when she was 23, she was called into the office of legendary editor AM Rosenthal and asked her what exactly she wanted to do at the newspaper, just name it. She said, âWell actually I want to go back to NewHampshire and have babies; I fell in love. âAnd that’s what she did.
âIt’s not something a woman did in 1977,â she says. âI don’t call myself a feminist. [But at the same time,] I don’t know where we got the idea that if you like to cook, if you like having babies, it’s anti-feminist. I have adopted Maynard’s definition of feminism as mine. âFor me, being a feminist,â she writes, âmeans showing the strength, confidence and tenacity to pursue whatever you most want to do … In my case, the goal was to have a family. . ” But with the strength to defy convention, there is also, very often, calamity. âI think it’s helpful to consider how many terrible things can happen, and you can still have a wonderful life,â Maynard says.
I can’t help but notice, when we talk about the role disaster plays in his work, that the view out the window is of an active volcano. Her house is a magnificent riot of color: Guatemalan textiles on the inside and roses, cacti and orchids on the outside. A large mural in her house, which she commissioned from a local craftsman, offers a visual compendium of all the bad things that could happen to you in her small town. “Okay, let’s see,” she said, a little happily: “Flood, volcanic eruption, tuk-tuk crash, truck passing by the water’s edge, a swarm of bees, rabid dogs.”
More and more as he grew older, Maynard saw how humanizing a terrible loss can be. Before their brief and happy marriage and the tragic death of the “good husband” recounted in The best of us, Maynard was “hung up on her old story,” the idea that everything in love had gone wrong for her. But having a love that worked, even with the loss – maybe because of the loss – made her realize that âI won’t be alone forever, that I need to love someone. It’s almost more important than being loved.
She reveals that there is a new boyfriend in her life – “a runner, very energetic, who doesn’t discuss hip replacements with me.” They met on match.com, the same way she met her late husband. “I like to talk to people about [how I met both of them online] because I think it’s inspiring, âshe says.[Before I met both of them], people had seen me banging all over the place, alone, unattached or desperately attached. I was looking for torment, and someone really interesting and rather dark. Finally, I was ready for a man walking on the sunny side of the street.
She has already started work on another book about returning to Yale as a college student in her 60s. It is no small thing to be seen as the voice of your generation, witnessing the wonders and challenges of a new generation.
âI worry about some of these brilliant students. They were brought up to go to Yale, to stay in Yale. The big crisis in their lives, for many of them, came when the pandemic happened and they didn’t have the school structure, which was all they had ever known. ”
Maynard worries that many of these young college students appear to lack resilience, a characteristic she has in spades. âI think this is probably the trait that has served me the best in life. I have been completely crushed a number of times, but I tend not to get crushed. I always got up.
Especially when it comes to loving. It wasn’t until she was 60, she says, that she realized what it was like to love. Lately Maynard has become obsessed with tennis even though she says she is a bad player. “It’s that back and forth – I like the idea of ââtwo people connecting [on the court]. “
âYou can dance alone. I dance alone. But you can’t play tennis alone.
This article appeared in the June / July 2021 issue of ELLE.