Think Wild! By Arnold Madison

Ted Alford had racked up a glorious A in Driver Education, but his father still wouldn’t allow him to solo in the family car. Enter the BLUE MONSTER….

Think Wild!

The Plot: 16 year old Long Island “townie” Ted Alford has two things on his mind Labor Day weekend: getting a car of his own and a getting a date with his glamorous classmate, Sheila Kern. So focused is he on these concerns that he walks right into a riot ignited by the drunken college students that have not yet cleared out from the summer. They organize with the gusto of graduates from a Communist training camp:

“You’ve got the maps we made of those targets and the strength. Don’t listen to anyone over thirty. They’re the enemy. Listen to your friends. The future citizens of America!” He  paused to bring out the next word with greater emphasis, dramatically waving his bear can, “Us!”

The laughing ovation was deafening. Fear gnawed at Ted’s insides. The effect of this unruly mob would be catastrophic. He glanced around for the police who would stop the horde. But there was no one except the five men at the far end of the street. The Rocky Cove Police Department consisted of seven men; two of them were on vacation. Rocky Cove had failed to anticipate rebellion. Rocky Cove was in trouble.

Ted desperately tries to make his way home as the rioters smash windows on Main Street, burn the town bandstand and tip over cars amidst extremely vague outcry about The Establishment and not trusting anyone over 30; while he last finds his family safe and sound, he soon gets word that some of his friends and classmates have been injured or stranded, despite the uprising having ended as quickly as it had started.

However, the impact last far into the school year, as Oscar Jenks, the editor of the town’s newspaper, founds the Committee Against Lessening Morality (C.A.L.M.) While the public face of C.A.L.M. consists of ambiguous platitudes against “permissiveness” in education, Jenks (a family friend) reveals that his real agenda is to get the Jews out of the town of Rocky Cove.

Ted is confused by the repulsion he personally feels towards Jenks and the fact that both his parents and Sheila and her family seem willing to go along with him; the tension intensifies when Jenks and C.A.L.M. focuses on teenaged “hot-rodders” just as Ted and his friends undertake to rebuild a wrecked 1958 Chevy.

Ted has finally found a sense of purpose in life as he works on “The Blue Monster”, the custom car that he sees as his ticket to independence and Sheila’s affections. But as the work progresses, his dealings with the adults of the town become more and more strained.

Madison takes pains to paint both sides as unsympathetic extremists: the college kids (“Some sweat shirts were emblazoned with the names of respectable Ivy League colleges”) are outsiders stirring up trouble; C.A.L.M. is equally disorganized, a vehicle to serve the individual bigotry of its members. When tensions inevitably boil over and the town’s “adults” riot, it is against the perceived threats of Jews, Communists, permissive parenting and teenagers in general.

While Madison effectively expresses Ted’s confusion with the world around him through a wild, Beat-influenced prose style…

A corner streetlight glowed like an undernourished orange that had been rejected by a fruit company.

…the plot never really goes anywhere: when the rioting is over with a second time, the residents of Rocky Cove return to nursing their secret prejudices and resentments as they always have. Like Ted’s Blue Monster, the story breaks down after barely getting started.

Sign It Was Written in 1968 Department: “Certain groups have undermined the schools. For years we were able to prevent these people from buying houses in this town…”

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie By Muriel Spark

(Click here for information on the 2014 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. First up, the June selection, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark’s 1961 novel is brief enough that it first saw publication in The New Yorker; a stage version appeared five years later, and the play was further adapted into a film in 1969, earning Maggie Smith an Oscar for Best Actress in the title role. Continue reading

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Slake’s Limbo By Felice Holman

To his family and teachers he was a nuisance; to his peers he was a target.

Slake's Limbo

The Plot: So. That was weird.

Sometimes that is the only reaction I have when I get to the end of one of these. Kids escaping into the contemporary dystopia of 1970s New York City are a frequent plot device of YA books of the era (The Prince of Central Park might be the best known), but none I’ve encountered have as flowery a prose style as this one. Continue reading

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Movie Madness and/or Mania: Girls Town (Charles F. Haas, 1959)

While Father Flanagan may have claimed that “there are no bad boys”, its opposite number begs to differ. With a cast led by eternal bad girl Mamie Van Doren, the girls of Girls Town are born to be bad…

Girls Town

So how does one get sent to Girls Town? In the case of the baffled Silver Morgan (Van Doren) it is for pushing an attempted-rapist off a cliff, although she claims to have been at the big rumble with a rival gang at the time.

Continue reading

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The Girl Scouts’ Rivals (#5) By Edith Lavell

“The jury finds the defendant guilty of breaking the first five Girl Scout laws and recommends her dismissal from the organization!”

Girl Scouts Rivals

Background: Fictional series about Girl Scouting date back nearly to the organization’s founding in 1912; by the 1920s the sub-genre exploded, and dozens of volumes featuring the daring outdoor adventures of young women were published by a number of authors.

While later series added Girl Scouts to standard mystery formulas (escaped convicts, stolen atomic secrets, Commie spies…) Edith Lavell’s 1922-25 series focused on Scouting traditions and values: Lavell was a regional Director of the organization in Philadelphia.

The series focuses on Marjorie Wilkinson and her friends at Miss Allen’s School for Girls, who form Pansy Troop during their freshman year, and follows the girls’ various adventures as they progress through both the Scouting ranks and high school and college.

The first book in the series, The Girl Scouts at Miss Allen’s School, deals with Marjorie and her best friend, Ruth Henry, arriving at the school, discovering Girl Scouting, and establishing Pansy Troop. However, as the series progresses, Ruth’s relentless scheming and social climbing drives a wedge between the two girls…

The Plot: …to the point that by this volume they hate each other.

Continue reading

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Memo: To Myself When I Have A Teenage Kid By Carol Snyder

What secrets will the diary reveal?

Memo to Myself...

Background: Especially For Girls was a mail-order book club offered through the venerable Weekly Reader service and marketed to young teenagers. Women of A Certain Age will immediately recognize the cover for Ann Reit’s Dream Boy, the free bonus book that arrived with your membership.

The books are hardcover reissues of older paperback titles (the club’s Sweet Valley High reissues are the bane of the paperback completist’s existence) and focus on age-appropriate crushes and other low-stakes conflicts.

Continue reading

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Imaginary Summer Book Club Update

It has come to my attention that the July selection of Imaginary Summer Book Club, No Bed of Her Own By Val Lewton is hard to come by, and despite having been reissued in 2006, cost-prohibitive to obtain. In light of that I propose…

1. The book is available on Amazon UK, and there are currently used copies available for the equivalent of a few US-dollars.

2. And for those of us looking for a more library-friendly solution, I am delighted to announce the first-ever Imaginary Summer Book Club alternate/bonus selection!


Jaws By Peter Benchley (July)

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “Jaws was a book???” Or maybe: “How is this a Classic of Women’s Literature Defined as being By, About or Widely-Read by Women in the  20th Century???”

You’re going to have to trust me on this one, starting by putting all memory of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster out of your mind (I know, it’s hard). Also, you have to ignore the cover art, as resplendent as it is.

Jaws, the novel, is about sex, class, small-town politics, adultery, systemic poverty, marital discontent, gossip, the precarious nature of a leisure-based economy and crises of masculinity. It’s basically a Peyton Place for the 1970swith a giant shark thrown in as an afterthought!

You can look forward to discussing both “July” Imaginary Book Club Selections, No Bed of Her Own and Jaws in the coming months!

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