Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Imperatives of Youth

My girlfriend has been in my life for most of this blog's existence, but she rarely gets mentioned. Two reasons: She has a deep (and reasonable) skepticism of the online world, and I have an aversion to Mr. Latte-type constructions. But I'm forcing her to stand front and center today, because today is the publication date of her first book, Not That Kind of Girl.

The book begins with her evangelical upbringing in southern New Jersey. It begins, after a brief prologue:
My mother says she can't listen to love songs anymore. Whatever men and women have to say about love is meaningless, she says, when she thinks about all that God has done for us.

But when you go to a Goodwill and see all the Andy Williams records, and think "Who could have possibly owned these?" picture my mother...
After lovingly detailing her nervous childhood -- nervous, in part, because the church's focus on the apocalypse combined with the Cold War to produce a fear of imminent nuking -- Carlene moves on to write about her time as a good girl in college. Here, she's in her dorm room on a Saturday night:
At about twelve thirty, when I had just put the lights out, there was banging on the metal door. I sat up. Three boys burst in and turned the lights on. Polo shirts, swinging arms, shouts, the smell of alcohol. Anne came in behind them, telling them to please cut it out.

"Hey," one of them said, pointing at me. "Get out of bed. It's Saturday night."

"Oh, how sweet," said another. "She's in her nightgown." There were no ruffles or lace, but yes, I was in a nightgown. For a moment I thought they really might jump into the bed with me, and I pulled the sheets up against my chest in an involuntary spasm of modesty. I hate you, I told myself. . . .

There would be no mercy for girls neatly tucked away in bed by midnight on Saturday calming themselves to sleep with a book -- a book about a virgin queen, no less. I got it. I was digging my own grave here. They had come upon a scene of flagrant disregard for the imperatives of Youth.
Carlene is the kind of writer who works really hard to make the end result look effortless. She cares about how each sentence fits with the one before it and the one after it, a rare quality that makes for a rare book. From college, she ventures to New York, where she hopes to pay a lot more attention to those imperatives of Youth. She does, with not quite the results she was looking for. Meanwhile, her spiritual life continues to conflict with her secular side -- the side that worships Morrissey and Walker Percy. And Percy and other Catholic writers inspire her to convert, before she eventually loses her faith again.

Not That Kind of Girl is what a semi-crazy New Yorker at a reading for the book last night called "a classic American spiritual journey." But don't take it from crazy people. Walter Kirn likes it a lot, too:
[Bauer] seems to lose her bearings at times, then find them again, then lose them once more. Her blessed center can’t seem to hold. What does hold, sentence by sentence and page by page, is Bauer’s sure grip on our sympathies. Her style is light but not trivial — the laughs she wrings from her moral dilemmas are shaded with melancholy longing.
There are more glowing recommendations on the back of the book, the lovely cover of which was designed by Leanne Shapton.

So, to wrap up: I'm proud, I'm highly recommending this book, and now Carlene can return to her spot off-stage...


Blogger Dezmond said...

Hot cover.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Barbara Carlson said...

Congratulations! It looks good.

You will never have the same strange emotions over
other any other book you write & get published. Savour this one.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Fox said...

Most Excellent. I look forward to the read.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this book. Love it! NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL is an amazing memoir from a remarkable woman. Can't believe she deigns to keep me company from time to time.

(Everyone: BUY THE BOOK!)

9:22 AM  

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