Meghan McCain’s diary-like account of her father’s campaign trail is a quick read. A fresh college graduate, McCain forfeits her plans of graduate school or opening up a clothing boutique and decides to follow her parents on the road to presidency. From the beginning, McCain identifies her father’s campaign to be out of touch with the younger crowd and aims to rally this demographic with her blog McCainBlogette.com. McCain contributes to her father’s campaign by documenting their travels with a twenty-something’s voice, including photographs and inside jokes. While on the twenty-month trail, McCain runs into snarky territory with other campaign workers, gets sent to an image consultant in California, and is eventually asked to leave the campaign.
Between lack of sleep, Coca-Cola consumption, and squeezing into her Spanx, McCain recounts her first meeting with the Palins and her father’s reluctance to share his running mate’s identity with his family. McCain feels betrayed when she learns that Sarah Palin was invited to the family’s ranch and struggles with how to relate to Palin and her children.
McCain is not a perceptive or particularly compelling writer, but she’s not trying to be. When retelling events from the campaign, McCain sticks to the same tactile details: UGG boots, makeup, and outfits. She inhabits a friendly, impassioned tone when addressing her readers, perpetually flogging the central idea that her father is not a bad person and that she was raised to think for herself. She shares memories from her childhood and past elections, specifically being approached by reporters at a young age and her reaction to her father’s famous comment on her hypothetical pregnancy. She lightly muses on the conditions of being a “daughter-of” — the pressures endured by daughters of political figures and the standards they impose on one another.
McCain does touch on some more complex topics, grazing them with her bubbly voice as she observes the sexism that ravages female candidates, the manipulation of campaign managers, and the stigma of being called a RINO (Republicans in Name Only). Her account from the makeup chair, more amiable than poignant, does provide a narration uncommonly paired with politics and thus a different point of view of McCain’s campaign. As the moderate Republican with the “stripper hair” and glittery heels, McCain’s confessional, vernal writing succeeds in garnering sympathy as the odd girl out of the GOP. As passionate about the future of the Republican party as she is about her Diane von Furstenberg dress, McCain addresses her own political beliefs superficially, encouraging her young Republican readers to consider more moderate social views while retaining their belief in small government.
To read more about Meghan McCain, click here.
Tags: 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama, Cindy McCain, Dirty Sexy Politics, family, John McCain, mccain blogette, Meghan McCain, Republican, RINO, Sarah Palin, sexism, women in media, women in politics, women's personal writing
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Carlene Bauer’s debut book, Not That Kind of Girl, details her evangelical upbringing in a small, cloistered town in southern New Jersey. Indoctrinated into her nondenominational faith by well-intentioned parents, Bauer and her younger sister struggle with eventual integration into public school, religious questioning, and general adolescent turmoil. Bauer eventually leaves her small pond for a slightly larger one: a private Catholic college. She majors in English and “communes with the dead,” spending hours poring over Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Simone de Beauvoir. Bauer eventually moves to Brooklyn where she tries to reconcile her belief in God with a hunger for sex, love, and other experiences beyond the conditions of her faith. Bauer passes into her twenties with little to no sexual experience, without any tales of drunken debauchery to share at the local dive bars in which she feels out of place. She yearns for a boyfriend but can’t seem to develop a full-fledged romance; she refers to her suitors as “false starts.”
Bauer is articulate in her religious contemplation, communicating her experiences of doubt and illumination with eloquent and lucid prose. She observes her small town well, recalling the details of youth groups and high school social politics, discerning her own visceral reactions to the reckless behavior of her peers with evocative and arresting perception. Upon hearing stories of drunken escapades by friends at the edges of town, Bauer fears losing control of herself in the typical high school party setting:
The word party, because of how I’d overheard them described and seen them depicted in John Hughes movies, filled me with fear. I was afraid of what people would see if I let myself go wherever my mind and alcohol and drugs would take me. I didn’t want anyone to ever have to step over me while I lay openmouthed like a fish that had been knocked from its bowl onto somebody’s parents’ shag carpet. Or pull my face, mottled with vomit and mulch, out of somebody’s parents’ landscaping after I’d heaved in the bushes. I didn’t ever want anyone who wasn’t related to me to see my body’s secrets spilled out in strangers’ ranch houses when I wasn’t even sure what its secrets were.
The themes of Bauer’s work stand strong: feminism, literature, and religion. A budding feminist in her religious community, she gravitates towards the writings of Sylvia Plath, looking to the late poetess for inspiration as she plans a life for herself in New York City. Her dedication to classic literature is matched only by her love of God, a relationship that is beautifully entwined in Bauer’s introspective narration.
Bauer writes keenly about female friendship, exposing delicate moments in the lives of ambitious young women whose faith eventually dissipates. Each of her female comrades is finely drawn as they travel, give up God, and meet up with Bauer some years later in different settings and with new attitudes. Warned from an early age to steer clear of teen pregnancy, drugs, and hair dye, she unexpectedly becomes close with rebel and chronic smoker Caroline. Bauer describes their polar opposite nature with fondness, writing, “I thought girls as different as we were had to circle each other with suspicion, but she came over and pulled me to her.” She identifies the friendship as a “sisterhood,” explaining humorously that, “we might have recognized men as the oppressor, and raged against them in the abstract, but we could be charmed by individual cases.”
Not That Kind of Girl suffers from a lackluster ending, but Bauer’s bow to convention does not detract from this indubitably well-written memoir, an observant and reflective work in a recent boom of mediocre memoirists. This contemplative meditation on identity and God from an analytical, well-read, and self-professed “good girl” announces a promising Brooklyn-based writer with insights worth reading.
To read more about Carlene Bauer, click here.
Tags: brooklyn, Carlene Bauer, Catholic, catholicism, classic literature, evangelical, faith, feminism, friendship, God, identity, Jesus, Manhattan, Memoir, New Jersey, new york city, religion, spirituality, Sylvia Plath, women's personal writing
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Laura Munson’s memoir, which details a rocky summer in her marriage of almost 15 years, begins when her husband drops a proverbial bomb in their Montana home: he tells her that her doesn’t love her anymore, and perhaps never has. Munson, an aspiring writer with 14 unpublished manuscripts to her name, immediately recalls the beginning of their courtship (the two met during their senior year of college) and the many challenges (debt, unemployment, Munson’s writing career) that their multi-decade relationship has had to endure.
The couple’s story does make for an interesting read: after dating for six years, the two relocate to Seattle and live the “twenty-something’s dream” of cramped apartments and coffee shops. Although Munson and her husband are considered unconventional and artsy by their W.A.S.P.-y parents, the young pair goes forward with a traditional over-the-top wedding and giggle to one another at the altar as if putting on a elaborate show.
But strains in the marriage appear shortly after the couple moves to Montana following a job offer for Munson’s husband. Always a city girl, Munson suddenly finds herself with house and baby, somewhat intimidated by Montana’s rural stretches, and for a moment experiencing a bit of The Talking Heads’ refrain, “How did I get here?” Munson’s unsuccessful literary career doesn’t help, either, and as her husband proposes moving out, Munson begins to blame herself and even her writing as the culprit in her crumbling marriage.
Unfortunately Munson’s premise carries far more weight than her narration. Although there are moments of beautiful reflection (particularly in reference to Munson’s junior year spent in Italy), overall, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is is a shoddily written memoir that relies more heavily on italics and double-talk narration than inspiring literary prose. Clearly, Munson can be a strong writer, as evidenced by certain poetic scenes (most take place on her porch), but is unable to apply this strength to the whole of the work. The book’s weaknesses flare up just as Munson’s own weakness do. As her insecurities fluctuate throughout the summer at the possibility of her husband seeing another woman, so does the caliber of her writing.
Sadly, Munson’s book can be added to the growing genre of silly, self-indulgent woman memoirs. Feel free to place This is Not The Story You Think It Is on your bookshelf not far from Eat, Pray, Love.
To read more on Laura Munson, click here.