Not That Kind of Girl: The Good English Major Gone Bad Storyline Majorly Resonated

From the Publisher: Raised in evangelical churches that preached apocalypse now, Carlene Bauer grows up happy to oblige the God who presides over her New Jersey girlhood. But in high school and college, her intellectual and spiritual horizons widen, and she becomes skeptical of the judgmental God she's been given. Still, she finds it hard to let go of the ideals she's been raised with, and to rebel as she knows she should.

In her twenties, however, determined to make up for lost time, Bauer undertakes a belated and often comic coming-of-age in New York City. And yet the city and its pleasures do not distract her from another hope: that she might learn how to have a faith that she can truly call her own. Enter the Catholic Church, and a conversion. But then she falls in love, and loses her religion—which leaves her wondering just what it means to be good.

My Take: Carlene is a typical teen who struggles with both adhering to her fundamentalist Christian mother's vision and her own burgeoning ideals. She attends a series of Christian schools where anything and everything fun, up to and including The Smiths and The Bonfire of the Vanities, is banned and where films are shown with plot lines that feature hippies who doesn't take Jesus into their heart and so are left on earth during the End of Days to be pursued by the Antichrist. I'm terrified by this so I can't imagine what it would do to the psyche of a impressionable kid.

The premise of this book is promising but it can be a bit hard to get into. It's on the wordy side and Bauer's voice doesn't come across immediately and with resonance. That said, perseverance pays off.

Bauer is the typical bookish good girl with big dreams of busting out of her one horse town and making it in the arts biz in the big city - something I can really relate to. Lines like, "To describe someone as a normal girl was our lowest blow. It meant that you had no idea who Monty Python was, and did not have plans that involved art and the city" perfectly encapsulate the wistful, high-brow aspirations of the typical unworldly provincial girl, a girl I really and truly once was.

Artistic aspirations aside, figuring out the mysterious species called "boy" is also high on Bauer's bucket list and her naive fumblings are as real as it gets. There's the typical bad boy, Joshua, who says "I think you think I'm Satan" and tries to deconstruct Bauer's house-of-cards beliefs, and then there's Rebound Boy, Mark, whose outsize antics only highlight Bauer's desire to break out of her own shell, and finally there's her nameless "friend" who loves her, is rejected by her, and then marries her.

Bauer really struggles with aligning her sexual self (from all accounts, negligible) with her cerebral self, possibly a product of her strict upbringing. In the end she decides to marry her "friend" on this premise:
That was what now appalled in the middle of the night - not marraige, but the idea of a future without one friend forever by my side. And a fear that you could end up like Isabel Archer married to a vampire because you had waited too long for the arrival of the perfect decorative compement to you the exquisite object.
Practical? Yes. Romantic? Oh no! Lorri Gottlieb would be proud. But, that is Bauer's nature and all her vulnerabilities, ticks, insecurities and so on are proudly and eloquently on display here and it's a testament to her that she presents herself so baldly.

Bauer's struggle with her faith is something I can less identify with, but as an emblem of carving one's identity out from underneath the shaping of our upbringing it works for me. Who couldn't agree with this statement?:
I had thrown off the God of my childhood, but I couldn't throw off the lives of the women who raised me, who wanted me to know that there was nothing more satisfying than selflessness, and individuation was just a fancy word for wanting things that would never fulfill you the way family could. Feminism was definitely one of those things.
The book tangles near the end with the obvious (struggling to make it in a top NYC publishing house à la Emily Gould) and the less obvious (her fall from Catholic grace after a traumatic event) but it never stops being eloquent and endearingly earnest - a nice change of pace from the slightly cynical biographies of some NYC female icons. I wouldn't say it exactly swept me away but for all the good-girls-gone-bad-gone-good-again out there, it will leave you nodding and smiling in recognition.

Not That Kind Of Girl/ Carlene Bauer / Harper Perennial / PB, 2010

This post is part of TLC's book tour for author Carlene Bauer and her memoir Not That Kind Of Girl. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. Please do check out the reviews of the other tour hosts, as listed below:


Heather J. said...

I'm glad you found so much to connect with in this book. Thanks for being a part of the tour!

B.Kienapple said...

It's been a great experience Heather! I haven't been a part of a tour before and it's well worth it. Thanks for commenting!

Ceri said...

Ooh, this sounds like quite a few 'coming-of-age' films I've seen before and I really enjoy that story of breaking out restrictions imposed during childhood. :D


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