Thursday, November 28, 2013

One Minus One

One Minus One / Ruth Doan MacDougall
AmazonEncore, 2013, c1971.
160 p.

Emily Bean is a recent divorcée, a high school English teacher, and a real mess. It's 1969, but Emily is not by any means an independent woman. She spends this book falling into a quick rebound fling with a local radio announcer, then into a more serious affair with her coworker, the bearded Cliff, all the while pining terribly for her lost husband.

Emily's journey is a difficult emotional one; her life has changed from the trajectory she expected it to take, and she is struggling to find a way forward. She doesn't have the help of a society that supports an independent path -- women's lib is just on the horizon, and not something she's been acquainted with in any case. She was completely identified with her role as wife and fully expected it to continue, and is now drifting, at loose ends, trying to move past her emotional loss (and not very successfully).

There's not too much plot here...Emily finds a new job, a couple of new boyfriends, goes home on the holidays, and thinks a lot. But the person she is at the end of the book is quite a distance away from the person who started out on this path. The story is told in a flat style that belies some of the violence and sexual threat that Emily encounters, and reflects her emotional distance from her experiences. She seems to let things happen to her rather than make them happen, but slowly various events cause her to act with some agency in her own life. At the end of the book she has to assert her own desires, to speak up, even while she is still floundering for solid ground. We don't really find out how things turn out for Emily, but there is a glimpse of a better life ahead -- just a glimpse, but enough to keep her on our minds after the book has ended.

This is one of the titles in Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscovery Series, and I never would have picked it up otherwise. I probably wouldn't have stuck with it otherwise, either, but I knew that there must be something to it to make it into this reprint series. Pearl says in the intro that it is character that is her defining interest in this book -- I can see why, as it is all about Emily and her interior journey. But for me, this book was so, so, so 70s that it was almost painful.

Emily's behaviours, her acceptance of screwed-up relationship dynamics, her close call with sexual violence, her passivity, her weird dependence on others, her judgements of roomates and others who aren't partnered up, and the general assumption that Emily and her two roomates are only biding time teaching until they can get a husband -- well. I had a hard time *enjoying* this book. I appreciated what MacDougall was trying to do, and recognize that in itself, the book succeeds at describing the emotional journey which it aims to illuminate. It just was not the book for me. Still, I am finding this reprint series really engaging, and it is certainly exposing me to books I wouldn't have heard of otherwise. There are a few more of these titles that I enjoyed more than this book, and I'll be sharing those soon.

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