Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rona Jaffe; Patti Abbott

Yesterday The Daily Beast did a piece on the books that get featured on Mad Men. You know, to lend further timeliness to the show. Good idea.

The first choice was Atlas Shrugged. The more I learn about Ayn Rand and her cult followers I think she should have been burned at the stake. And used her acolytes as kindling. And yes I do mean you Allan Greenspan--your very Randian economic theories went a long way to putting us where we are today. I believe he was one of her lovers (shudder).

The second choice was Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything. Rona who? you ask. Well, she was actually an example of something we don't have any more--the solid middle-brow novelist reporting on what she sees around her. Sartre's goal has come true. Only high art and low art matter he said. We n longer have the JP Marquands and the Phillip Wylies. Not all the middle-brows were dull.

Rona Jaffe was a fine storyteller and a witty if melancholy social observer. She wrote Mad Men many decades before the show appeared. The Daily Beast quotes the opening of Everything, Jaffe's take on working girls in NYC circa 1960:

"You see them every morning at a quarter to nine, rushing out of the maw of the subway tunnel, filing out of Grand Central Station, crossing Lexington and Park and Madison and Fifth avenues, the hundreds and hundreds of girls. Some of them look eager and some them look resentful, and some of them look as if they haven't left their morning beds yet."

Jaffe was a real writer. I automatically bought each of her novels. There wasn't a bad one in the lot. Here's a brief bio from Wikipedia:

"Jaffe wrote her first book, The Best of Everything, while working as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications in the 1950s. Published in 1958, it was later made into a movie, starring Joan Crawford. The book has been described as distinctly "pre-women's liberation" in the way it depicts women in the working world. Critic Camille Paglia noted in 2004 that the book and popular HBO series Sex and the City had much in common with Jaffe's novel in that the characters, who have similar lifestyles, are both "very much at the mercy of cads."

"During the 1960s, in addition to writing more novels, she was hired by Helen Gurley Brown to write cultural pieces for Cosmopolitan with a "Sex and the Single Girl" slant."

Ed here: You'll note she worked for Fawcett. I believe she may have for for Gold Medal at one time. Maybe George Tuttle knows.


You know my post last night about the difference between storytellers and wordsmiths? I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that I was wrong. I didn't really answer the question implicit in the distinction. I simply stated my preferences. So I apologize to Patti. I also should have noted that Patti was quoting Kate Wilhelm. Wilhelm was the one who made the distinction.


mybillcrider said...

Being an Old Guy, I knew who Rona Jaffe was as soon as I saw her name in your blog post title. Like you, I very much enjoyed her books, or at least the ones I read, starting with The Best of Everything. Solid entertainment all the way.

Sarah Weinman said...

And yes, I believe she did work for Gold Medal, which is just another reason why I read THE BEST OF EVERYTHING annually.

pattinase (abbott) said...

At the time I read both THE FOUNTAIN HEAD and ATLAS SHRUGGED, I was a teenager and never saw beneath the story to the kind of society she was proposing. I wonder how many other readers had no idea that is more political tract than novel. And I remember Rona Jaffe, too. She could tell a great story. That sort of fiction seems to have disappeared.

Michael P. said...

Ed, I don't know how old you were when you read Ayn Rand, but Patti is on the money here. If you read her two big novels when you're still young and stupid (i.e., a teenager), they're wonderfully entertaining. Read them later in life and they're crap. With Rand, timing is everything.

Charlieopera said...

I'm not really sure if this applies (regarding wordsmiths & story tellers) but I do wonder how many authors go about either consciously. I’m heading off to see the Allman Bros. tonight and was driving my wife crazy this morning on the ferry into NY trying to explain the baseline in Whipping Post. Then I got to work and googled the song and found this:

Musically, the composition was immediately noticeable for its use of 11/4 time in the introduction (it is also sometimes referred to as being in 11/8 time).[12] As Gregg Allman later said:

"I didn't know the intro was in 11/4 time. I just saw it as three sets of three, and then two to jump on the next three sets with: it was like 1,2,3—1,2,3—1,2,3—1,2. I didn't count it as 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. It was one beat short, but it didn't feel one short, because to get back to the triad, you had two steps to go up. You'd really hit those two hard, to accent them, so that would separate the threes. ... [Duane] said, 'That's good man, I didn't know that you understood 11/4.' Of course I said something intelligent like, 'What's 11/4?' Duane just said, 'Okay, dumbass, I'll try to draw it up on paper for you.'"

I (think) I remember reading a Jack Kerouac interview and he answered a question about what he was trying to say with: “Say? Say? Fuck say …”

I can see Updike being a consummate wordsmith (as well as a great storyteller) but I suspect it was more natural for him than painstaking (but I don’t know).

Todd Mason said...

OK, folks, I tried reading ANTHEM by Ayn Rand when I was 12, and it was obviously such utter bullshit, and blatantly a tract, from page one. That, and the breathless declamations of Patricia Neal and other unfortunates in the film version of THE FOUNTAINHEAD, convinced me that my impression from the first few pages of both that novel and ATLAS SHRUGGED were not worth any more of my time. I might've been an unusually political teen, and I haven't been too unsophisticated a reader at any stage, but, really, How oould one miss it? It's a bit like missing the politics in Heinlein or GB Shaw or Wells or Orwell. But, then, people still seem to wildly (willfully?) misundertand the reforming Trotskyist Orwell. (Then there's Rand's open misogyny...)

Todd Mason said...

Convinced me that my impression was correct that both of those longer novels of sorts were not worth any more of my time, I should've written.

Todd Mason said...

Writers who at least occasionally can remind me of the kind of thing Rona Jaffe wrote: Sheila Kohler...Howard Fast (albeit, of course, he's gone, too...). All not lost. What little Jaffe I've sampled struck me as a smarter and more deft Harold Robbins.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Kohler is a bit heftier, perhaps, rather in the same class as JC Oates...but I don't know that their work doesn't appeal to the same sort of readers, much as Lawrence Block might (particularly with the likes of SMALL TOWN). Certainly, while these folks are more fully-realized artists, they aren't more difficult, at least in certain works or in certain moods (grunching a bit about the IMDb commenter I read yesterday referring to the source material of ORDO being a "pulp novel"--meant dismissively, mind you--when I suspect Donald Westlake's novella was nothing of the sort).

Deb said...

(Long-time lurker; first-time poster)

Late to the party, but loved the post and wanted to make a couple of comments:

You’re so right about our lack of solid, middle-brow writers; writers who weren’t trying to be James Joyce but were aiming a little higher than pulp/genre fiction (although there were good writers there too). Thanks for mentioning Marquand. I read a lot of his books in the 1970s & 80’s—and even then they were considered “dated." They were usually about working-class boys who improve themselves and become upper-middle-class men, and there was generally a lost love in the mix. The Great George Appley is considered his masterpiece, but books like B.F.’s Daughter and Sincerely Willis Wade are much more representative of his work.

As for Ayn Rand—when anyone (over the age of 19) tells me that Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead is their favorite book, I assume the person either is fatally self-absorbed or does not read very much. I have the same reaction when someone tells me their favorite book is Catcher in the Rye.


Todd Mason said...

Ha. I think you should duck faster for suggesting that the Rona Jaffe or Marquand books are better than "pulp/genre" or that middlebrow fiction is, without defining any of those terms. But I won't (can't honestly) argue with your third paragraph.

Michael P. said...

I've never read Jaffe but am aware of "The Best of Everything" and have been meaning to read it. It's great to discover that at least a few people are still reading John P. Marquand. From the late 30s until the early 60s he was one of our best novelists. All nine of his major novels are well worth reading, with "Point of No Return" being my own favorite. And he also had one hand in the pulps with the Mr. Moto novels. I'd put him on a par with John O'Hara, another unjustly neglected writer.

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism advocates the separation of state and economy. Greenspan led the Federal Reserve, which is a _state_ run bank with the legal power and monopoly to regulate the economy through its manipulation of the interest rate. Keep it artificially low and you will create bubbles and eventually a crash. This institution is one that anyone that advocates capitalism, including Ayn Rand, wants to phase out. Instead we want to tie the monetary supply to a gold standard. I understand that you hate Ayn Rand, but you cannot have it both ways: damn her for her policy of hands of for the state in the economy AND blame her (sic) for state intervention in the economy too. The simple explanation to this is that there is no contradiction here, Greenspan simply wanted to be an econmic dictator more that he wanted to defend freem, like he did in his early days. Greenspan took the modern root, said to hell with the morality of freedom and sought political power instead. Nothing shocking here, exept for those that want to blame Ayn Rand for what her enemies does and do.

Iren said...

The only thing I ever read by Jaffe was the awful Mazes & Monsters, her cash in on the D&D is warping our children mania of the late 70s and early 80s. The TV movie of that book staring a young Tom Hanks took the book and breathed just a little bit of life into the story.

"Orange Mike" Lowrey said...

Rona Jaffe! My first commercial publication was a review of Jaffe's MAZES AND MONSTERS, a very mundane envisioning of the "D&D players are borderline schizos who may go nuts from playing the game" mythology (a persistent report is that she ground it out in a matter of weeks to make a quick sale of the "ripped from the headlines" sort). The review was in DRAGON magazine.

Rand, on the other hand, fills me with nausea every time her name comes up. I don't believe in a literal personal Satan; but if I did, Rand would certainly count as his most effective agent in the 20th century.