A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century
By Jane Vandenburgh
(Counterpoint, Hardcover, 9781582434599, 400pp.)
Publication Date: March 2009
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Born into a certain kind of family”affluent, white, ProtestantJane 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 motheran artist and freethinkerlost 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.
"The author has mined this material before: Her acclaimed first novel, Failure to Zigzag (1989), featured a teenage narrator with a mentally disturbed mother and a father who committed suicideall drawn, we see here, from Vandenburgh's difficult early years in California. Her depressed and troubled father, with whom she was very close, was repeatedly arrested in gay bars. He committed suicide by throwing himself off the roof of his office building in 1958, when she was just nine years old. Her mother, a freethinking artist, quickly spiraled downward into insanity, and was committed to a mental hospital. Vandenburgh and he two brothers were taken to live with an aunt and uncle who already had four kids of their own. The first half of the book, which recalls this lonely and troubled childhood, is exquisitely written and awash with poignant, moving details, like her description of how she left down the lid of her record-player after her mother was committed so that it would keep trapped forever the air her mother had breathed. Vandenburgh also does a wonderful job of documenting her teenage sexual awakeninghence the memoir's titleand deftly captures the era: 'Drugs haven't happened yet, but you can feel them on the edge of things, waiting like the crisp paper wrapper on a noisy present.' The second half, which jumps ahead to adulthood, doesn't quite match the tour-de-force of her childhood memories, but the whole is nonetheless striking and insightful. Effectively employing the author's fiction-writing talents to tell her life story, this memoir will likely cause readers to seek out her novels." Kirkus