Couples: Trying To Understand Coming of Age in the 1960’s

I’ve been reading, of all things, COUPLES by John Updike. In my youth, it was a book I searched for when I was babysitting.(And found, sometimes in an underwear drawer). It was about sex, my teen-aged mind assumed. Now I’m discovering that its sometimes purple sometimes exquisite prose is something that would have been decidedly yucky to my adolescent view–the misery of marriage. Which frankly is somewhat yucky to my more than middle-aged one.
However, I’m an archeologist in my own life, often wondering–just what were my parents thinking? They weren’t WASP-Y swingers, as in COUPLES. Or wildly attractive New Yorkers (MAD MEN). But I was raised in the suburbs in the sixties.
Maybe it is because I recently have been reminiscing about elementary school. Or talking to a friend about whether our teen-age years were uniquely bad–driven by social chaos to a more than usual existential pitch. Maybe I’m just trying to make sense of parts of my past because I’m writing more fiction.
Or maybe, as a male friend said about MAD MEN and our generation, “We are ALL Sally.”


Mad Men Binge

Once I year I get to watch MAD MEN–a whole season. As I don’t have a television I have to wait for the DVD…and then binge! It is like reading a huge Victorian novel all at once. It is mesmerizing–and hard to surface.
My friend Miriam B.–reader and librarian–does not like my use of the word “trash” to describe my search for pure narrative. As in–trashy novel. But I don’t exactly mean genre. What I mean is story–mesmerizing but possibly without much literary merit. Maybe it is snobby to call it trash. Or maybe it is just my pet name for what I love–like calling the cat “bad.”
But I do mean it is more pleasing than enlightening. And MAD MEN is perfect. It has a lot of what I crave, including the quintessential Byronic hero, Don Drapper. His past is mysterious, he is handsome, sexy, and smart…and he is so so emotionally wounded. He might be Heathcliff. In fact, sexy and wounded is a dangerous combo (think bad boyfriend). But I don’t have to date him. Just watch him. And gorgeous women in gorgeous clothes fall for him and suffer.
Another perfect thing about MAD MEN–the pacing. I came of age during the age it portrays…in fact Don’s young daughter, born in 1957, could be my younger sister. And I grew up loving slightly slow paced but elegant narrative, with twists and turns. (Thomas Crowne affair, original). I don’t like how action has replaced story in movies for perhaps the last twenty-five years. My taste was formed in 1972, and stays there. This current season was both nice and slow and nice and surprising. Perfect.
I stay chastely unaware of MAD MEN for 51 weeks of the year. I see none, I listen to no gossip, I read no websites. Then I am like a hermit who suddenly received ALL of the installments of a Dickens novel. I just watch it. Of course most of literature is now available in its entirety. And so is a season of MAD MEN. But what will happen? Next year? This world seems poised to explode. After all, I know what 1969 is going to be like, even if the characters are still in ’65.