Kinflicks – Lisa Alther

The best book I read over Christmas was this feminist coming of age novel from the mid-seventies. Telling the tale of the sexual misadventures of the lead Ginny Babcock the book could be seen as coming from the Erica Jong stable. But to run the biographical comic storyline in parallel with rather a dark narrative about the death of Ginny’s mother gives the book much more resonance.

Twenty eight years old, the book already belongs strongly to another age, and the generation divide between Ginny and her mother (feminist / pre-feminist) seems almost twee. The effect of this becoming a period drama invests much more interest in those surroundings, a view of the Vietnam war on the home front for instance, and free-love. What is much more interesting however is how almost dislikable the lead becomes by the end of the book. The early trysts with the quarterback, the town rough element and later lesbianism are amusingly painted and smack of a woman still trying to define her own way in the world. By the time she is married with a child her unhappiness, no matter how well portrayed, becomes petulance. How much of this judgement is due to having grown up in a more conservative age interested me, though it is clear that Alther expects this reaction. Though she may expect it from the older, not the younger, generation. But when morbidity creeps in near the end it is clear that the conclusion of feminism’s promises of having the choice to be anything also entails the choice to be nothing.

This is probably the kind of book that time may forget, stuck permanently to its time (as this Virago reissue may suggest). It would be a pity as it casts a satirical eye not that dissimilar to that of Catch-22’s to the female coming of age story. It even ends in the same sort of way, open yet satisfying. That said the title and the cover illustration of the Virago edition do the book no favours, and it is often down to tiny things like this which may seal the books position in posterity.