Judy Blume will be speaking at the University of Hartford on June 21st as a fundraiser for The Mark Twain House & Museum. I’ll be interviewing her onstage and taking tons of audience questions. In preparation, I will be reading her complete works and blogging about the experience. Get your tickets here. Wifey, Judy Blume's first book, begins with a man masturbating on our heroine's front lawn.
Sandy dropped to her knees, barely peeking out the window, afraid, but fascinated, not just by the act itself, but by the style. So fast, so hard! Didn't it hurt, handling it that way? She'd always been so careful with Norman's, scared she might damage it.
There are many shocking things in this book, even for a wizened old adult reader such as myself. Affairs. Swinging. Diaphragms (the exact use of which seem just as dated as the menstruation belts in Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret-- they come in sizes? Was this a source of anxiety for women at the time, the size of your diaphragm? Someone please answer this for me.). Old flames. Gonorrhea.
But the most shocking and most delightful thing about this book is the fact that it is the first of Judy Blume's adult novels, and tons-- I mean tons-- of kids must have read it entirely by accident. I've already found two people in my office for whom that is the case. Published in 1978, teenagers must have gotten a fascinating eyeful then (and I'm sure this still happens today, from my experience with Summer Sisters and what those innocent beach chairs on the cover represented). There was backlash. Oh, was there backlash. Many said her career would be over and chastised her for not using a pseudonym. Won't someone think of the children!
From what I can tell, Judy Blume did not give anything resembling a shit. Just when the world got used to her dealing with complex topics for kids, she goes ahead and tackles a terrible marriage and infidelity. Unsurprisingly, this book is morally ambiguous to the core. I don't mean that Sandy, the heroine, has no morals-- I mean it is largely unclear what is right and wrong here. Her husband, Norman, treats her like a trophy wife (sorry, "Wifey," just as condescending as it sounds) and any feminist worth her diaphragm (yes? no? Someone help me here) would cheer for the epic divorce scene that never comes. Instead we are left with a weird marraige with improved communication. I found it both realistic and deeply depressing.
Judy Blume herself was married three times. She says in her 2004 introduction: "I was never married to Norman but I knew plenty of guys like him." In the end, Norman doesn't matter-- Sandy does. And while we're saddened to know that maybe Sandy stays in that marriage forever, we at least know that in 1975 Judy Blume struck out for a new life of her own. I believe I will be too afraid to ask her about this in my interview, but maybe I can get the gumption.
She says in her introduction: When I look at the book today, I can't believe how fearless I was in my writing. I mean, all those sexual fantasies and escapades! Maybe I just didn't know enough then to be worried. Maybe I really didn't care what anyone thought.
May we all be so brave as to break out of the boxes that made us famous, Judy, may we all be so brave.