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At Home in the World: A Memoir [Hardcover]

Joyce Maynard
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 15 1998
In the spring of 1972, Joyce Maynard, a freshman at Yale, published a cover story in The New York Times Magazine about life in the sixties. Among the many letters of praise, offers for writing assignments, and request for interviews was a one-page letter from the famously reclusive author, J.D. Salinger.

Don't Go Away Sad is the story of a girl who loved and lived with J.D. Salinger, and the woman she became. A crucial turning point in Joyce Maynard's life occurred when her own daughter turned eighteen--the age Maynard was when Salinger first approached her. Breaking a twenty-five year silence, Joyce Maynard addresses her relationship with Salinger for the first time, as well as the complicated , troubled and yet creative nature of her youth and family. She vividly describes the details of the times and her life with the finesse of a natural storyteller.

Courageously written by a women determined to allow her life to unfold with authenticity, Don't Go Away Sad is a testament to the resiliency of the spirit and the honesty of an unwavering eye.

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Joyce Maynard's memoir At Home in the World is an attempt to make peace with herself. At times, however, it's hard not to see it as an act of war--on her parents and, most notably, on J.D. Salinger. Maynard's account of her year-long relationship with the reclusive writer is the centerpiece of the book and the publicity pivot on which it turns. And how not? She first encountered Salinger when he wrote her a fan letter following her world-weary but not necessarily wordly wise New York Times Magazine cover piece, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life." He was then 53 and, as Maynard paraphrases, wanted her "to know that I could be a real writer, if I would just look out for myself, as no other person is likely to." By the time she was 19, she was living with the increasingly controlling Salinger and doing her best to adhere to his regimens, from homeopathy at any price to a mostly macrobiotic diet heavy on frozen peas. (Lamb burgers, formed into patties and then frozen--before being cooked at a dysentery-friendly 150 degrees--also figure heavily.)

What's worse, he does his best to turn the hugely driven young woman into a mistrusting, publicity-shy prig, not to mention helping her perfect her already anorexic bent. Maynard is such a skilled writer that it's hard not to take her side as the relationship falters. In fact, even when it's going well, it's not easy to sympathize with a man whose idea of an endearment is, "I couldn't have made up a character of a girl I'd love better than you." But Maynard is as hard on her younger self as she is on the great man. Though she had published intimate essays since her early teens, and long been feted for her "honesty," it has taken the overachiever many years to realize that she had carefully left out her most personal burdens--her father's alcoholism, her mother's nighttime "snuggling" and overwhelming intrusions, the distance between her and her older sister.

Still, At Home in the World is more than a clearing-house for past parental and amorous wrongs. It's a cautionary tale about using language and the pretense of truth to obscure key realities. One of the many curiosities in this discomfiting book? Salinger dreamt that he and Maynard had a child together: "I saw her face clearly. Her name was Bint." The World War II veteran then looks up the word. "What do you know," he says. "It's archaic British, for little girl." Maynard never, even now, has questioned his definition. In fact, it's slang, used especially in World War II, for prostitute. When Salinger forced the 19-year-old to clear her things out of his New Hampshire house, she was still unaware of the word's force. "On the window of Jerry's bedroom, where the glass is dusty, I write, with my finger, the name of the child we had talked about: BINT." --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

Maynard, novelist (Baby Love; To Die For) essayist, columnist and Web-page chatteuse, was a freshman at Yale in April 1972 when the New York Times Magazine published her cover article, "An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life." Of the hundreds of letters she received, one from the reclusive J.D. Salinger, then 53, praising her talent and warning her against the dangers of early success, struck a particular chord. Maynard quickly wrote back and, following a summer of letters, phone calls and visits to Cornish, N.H., she dropped out of Yale and moved in with him. Maynard's observant, straight-faced presentation of what are nonetheless often hilarious events chez Salinger has to be one of the shrewdest deflations of a literary reputation on record. What's plain and most damaging is the nature of Jerry's interest in Joyce, who looked about 11 and who arrived for her first visit in a dress almost identical to one she wore in first grade. Maynard poignantly describes her alienation and isolation, which Salinger reinforced before cruelly discarding her. Unable for legal reasons to quote Salinger's letters, Maynard nevertheless makes the reader see why his words so captivated her: "I fell in love with his voice on the page," she says. Once she moved in, however, Jerry began to sound like an aging Holden Caulfield, abrasive and contemptuous. Maynard takes too long setting up her family history pre-Salinger and far too long recounting her life since, inadvertently revealing why Salinger and others seem to have wearied of her. But her painstaking honesty about herself lends credence to her portrayal of Salinger as something worse than a cranky eccentric. This will be a hard story to ignore. First serial to Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't tell anybody the secrets Feb. 9 2003
As a fellow boomer, I enjoyed and related to Ms Maynard's early 70s memoir, "Looking Back." We now learn that what she wrote on those pages was, while perhaps accurate, not exactly truthful. In "At Home in the World" she seemed determined to tell the truth. The lesson we learn is that truth has a steep price. It is particularly expensive for Mr. Salinger, who appears to have had the misfortune to have been, although seriously eccentric, mostly human. His biggest mistake was that of bad judgment. He trusted Ms Maynard.
This is not to say that Ms Maynard's decision to write about her relationship with him, and the resulting consequences, was wrong. At the time of their relationship she was a journalist of sorts, so Mr. Salinger's decision to place trust in an eighteen-year-old budding writer/journalist, seems today to be foolish.
Reading "At Home in the World" is a lot like passing a horrible traffic accident on the road. You know you shouldn't look, but you do. You know it's a huge invasion of the victims' privacy, but you do it anyway.
This book is a story of coming to terms with our middle age lives. It is a book about what made us what we are . It is a book about choices, good and bad. Where we were once filled with promise, we now must come to terms with the lives we have led. Ms Maynard does this beautifully. Her book makes you think, makes you reflect. Often it is disturbing. It is a compelling story of her search to make sense out of the complicated and twisted road we call life.
I am sure that Ms Maynard's intention in disclosing extremely intimate details of her relationship with her former lover was honest. I am sure it was therapeutic for Ms Maynard to write this updated memoir. I am equally sure it will help a lot of people. She is a wonderful writer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maturity and its Enlightenment Feb. 16 2002
By K.Edini
Perhaps if you will take a hint of honesty about a man that has been practically idolized by people all over, from a seventh grade english student reading her father's boyhood copy of a catcher in the rye for the first time to professors of literature, as a personal offense at your own manhood, then you should not read this book. (in the very least if you are that personally bothered by it you shouldn't instruct the author to "grow up")
I too will share a bit about myself. j.d. salinger is my favorite author. and just to be clear, he is my favorite author, not person. i read his books for pleasure and to make me think, i do not read his books in order to fill a void i feel in my own life. Reading this book did not make me dislike the man, i have never met him, nor am i likely to, so frankly i don't think it matters(to him or me). nor did this book cause me to like or dislike ms. maynard, that was not ther reason i purchased it. what reading this book did provide was insight on the life and reasoning of the author to whom i had been peculiarly, and thusfar unexplicably, drawn to for a long time.
as evidenced by other reviews of this book, many people (not surprisingly, mostly men) appeared to have read this book because they felt deprived, almost cheated, by the effect of salinger's reclusiveness on their own lives. they thought this book was going to help them know a man whom they have so desparately wanted to meet, but who clearly has no desire to share anything with them. unfortunately because these people read this book with a personal mission, they had a personal reaction which has caused them to try and convince others to not read this book. they have had their perfect image shattered, and are trying to do some damage control. for these people i have one question.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing March 20 2002
Perhaps my expectations of this book were too high, but with all the experiences in her life that she had to portray, Joyce Maynard comes up woefully short in holding the reader's interest. Her early passion for J.D. Salinger becomes a seething hatred, with the acclaimed author seeming no more than a curmudgeonly near-pedophile. And, for all the exorcising of her demons and the details of her private life she attempts to share in this book, she is surprisingly light on revelations. I wanted so much more, but found that she used pages to go out of her way not to tell more. It's frustrating, and an ultimately boring read. I was very disappointed.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, considering... Feb. 22 2004
By A Customer
I heard about this book several years ago, and
did not expect to find myself reading it. I knew
of Joyce Maynard from her columns in "Parents",
which I found uninspiring and often gratuitously
patronizing. Eventually I took this book out from
the public library when I was in the mood for some
light reading, and was pleasantly suprised. The main
strenght of the book IMO is it's lyrical narrative.
The quality of the writing for the most transcends
what I consider to be Joyce's uninspiring
life story, and that includes the Big Love Affair With
Salinger. For someone as intelligent and capable as she
clearly was, Joyce's adult life reads like alot of
poorly-thought-out decisions and missed opportunities,
which she makes the best of. But for his fame and
idiosyncratic ways, the affair with Salinger does
not by my lights make Joyce unique among any other
young women of her generation that had father fixations.
The real heroine of the
story IMO is her mother, who taught Joyce discipline
and the art of writing, while reclaiming her own life.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad the book is coming to an end
After re-reading Catcher In The Rye . . . and then watching a recent documentary on JD Salinger, where Joyce Maynard was interviewed, I wanted to read her book. Read more
Published 5 months ago by T. Howard
2.0 out of 5 stars More of that David Copperfield kind of cr*p.
Depressing. J.D. Salinger pictured as he no doubt really is - a self centered jerk who has inappropriate attractions to younger women. Hard to enjoy his writing after reading this. Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2004 by Harris Macklin
5.0 out of 5 stars Why not tell?
Does a person have a right to her own life story? Guess not. Strange as it must have seemed to the apparently unquenchable ego of the unsavory hermit who preyed on Joyce Maynard,... Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Honest, but Ultimately Sad
During her freshman year at Yale in 1972, Joyce Maynard published a story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine called ``An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life''. Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2003 by Allan Heydon
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot the Phony
This is a don't miss, one of the best autobiographies of the last decade. Joyce Maynard's subject, here and elsewhere, is Joyce Maynard. Read more
Published on Dec 20 2001 by Richard B. Schwartz
2.0 out of 5 stars Hell hath no fury...
In the style of Ms. Maynard, I will begin by writing lots of things about myself that can hardly be of interest to you. Read more
Published on Dec 7 2001 by Eric Krupin
4.0 out of 5 stars Exorcising the demon and then some
I was prepared not to like "At Home in the World" because of the adverse publicity and bad reviews heaped on it. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2001 by lonebeaut
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, Lucid, and Poetic (at times)
This book grew from conflicts Joyce Maynard was having with her eighteen-year-old daughter; they forced her to recall her own life at age eighteen. Read more
Published on July 12 2001 by David Kleist
2.0 out of 5 stars Smart Powerful Man gets Young Woman, and Other Stuff
This book drones at times and it includes a story we've all heard before: A smart and famous man excersizes his power and manipulates an attractive YOUNG woman (Well, it's hard to... Read more
Published on June 14 2001 by Samual P. Snurdley
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