rev. of Yours, and Mine by Judith Rascoeby
The Renaissance had its studies where the master taught his arts to apprentices, and today we have, for writers at least, the graduate writing schools where more than one master passes on the traditions. Stanford is one of those schools and has graduated such people (to name a few women) as Hannah Green who wrote
The Dead of the House, Fannie Howe of
Forty Whacks (or was she Harvard?) and now Judith Rascoe who was both Stanford and Harvard. One expects from these schooled writers a sense of craft, a knowledge of what has been done by other writers, and even a wry or ironic sense of humor that befits an intellectual. They are generally made humble by their learning, and they do not seek to give us the whole world but rather a small part of it where they stand as detached observers much as a university trained scientist might specialize in the boll weevil.
Judith Rascoe has written a first book consisting of a novella and twelve short stories. Her main subject is the other California that is the California that is neither Hollywood nor hippie. This other California is suburban, and it abhors the life style of the hippies. It has the problems without the money comforts of Hollywood itself. There are the multiple marriages, community property, the many children from his and hers former and present marriages that are difficult for Grandmother to count not to speak of love. There is in the family a memory of past wealth that had brought the now elders to California to enjoy life in the sun, and there is a sense of loss with the money gone.
Already much has been made of the comma in the title of the novella
Yours, and Mine by the book jacket commentator and by
Time magazine. It is, of course, a very calculated proportioning of both personal and property rights, a bargaining position that helps to make relationships temporary from the beginning. Margaret (the point of view of the novella) comes back to California, the unhappy land of her childhood and youth, from New York. She visits her parents in San Jose who had separated and divorced when she was five, remarried when she was in college and are about to be separated again. They are like strangers to her. She visits her grandmother's friend Leona in Santa Barbara who is wealthy and possessive, afraid of burglars and of being cheated. She sees a stepbrother she had not seen for years, and he is convinced that somehow he has been bilked of an inheritance. She sees John Butler, her lover in New York, and turns down his offer to join him at a ranch while he studies hawks in the valleys. She can't join him because she can't pay for a portion of the ranch, as he and the others are doing, and she
believes in "and mine." The spent wealth of her family was made in oil, and all around there are oil spillages on the beach. Margaret finds nothing that will do for her in California, and she has learned nothing.
In this novella and the other twelve stories, Judith Rascoe's women are either unable to commit themselves to a relationship or they have entered into marriages that have failed. Their own childhoods have been spoiled by the divorce of their parents, and those who do have children find little happiness in them. One child refuses to acknowledge that he knows some guests and will not let them into the house. Another fires a gun at his father. A little girl desperately plays the slot machine to prove to her mother that she is lucky. It is a view of life lived from the beginning without joy.
Among the stories are a couple of tours de force. In "Evenings Down Under" the reader learns gradually that what seemed like Nixon's America is actually a picture of Hell. The sink is stopped up, the commentator for the government appears on television and is evasive as he pretends to make things perfectly clear, and a card game is played with a deck that has two cards missing. In "Meter, Measure or Catalogue Raisonne" brilliant fun is made of the mad relationship between the art historian, the work of art and the artist himself. Number X, for example, is labelled "Bottle, 1947. Oil. Collection of Lord Pell."
- In what sense is this a bottle, sir?
- I no longer know.
- Is it a metaphysical bottle?
- I don't think so.
- A material bottle then?
- Is it a bottle? Why do you say that? Why do you call it that?
- I believe it is your title, sir.
- I doubt it.
The best of all the stories "Small Sounds and Tilting Shadows" won an O. Henry award. It deals with a young American woman in England who has had to have an appendectomy and is recuperating in an apartment she is minding for a journalist who is on assignment. She got the place through a friend, and it is depressing. Gradually she starts imagining noises, hearing voices and answering them and pretending to phone callers that Willie, the journalist, is there with her but has just stepped out. To keep her sanity she bolts for Florence. Again, like Margaret in the novella, nothing has been right for her.
Judith Rascoe has a limited but intense vision. Her language is precise, and her tone is controlled. Mark Schorer, in choosing her for
Esquire as the best writer under 35 he knows of, has said that she describes the condition of "cosmic but also comic loneliness" and adds that this "plagues us all." But then he, too, is a Californian. One thinks of the emptiness of the Loud family and of the blank spaces we all know at times in our lives. Perhaps California is the future of us all, and if so it is made grimly plain in
Yours, and Mine and Judith Rascoe is its chronicler.