Understanding Women by C. W. Smith

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Synopsis

It's 1956, and James Robert (Jimbo) Proctor has just turned sixteen when his Uncle Waylan and his new wife Vicky invite Jimbo to spend a summer toiling in the New Mexico oil patch. Jimbo dreams that heaving heavy metal about will serve as well as a Charles Atlas course to make a man of him, but he lands smack dab in a domestic fracas that has his uncle living in his machine shop and sneaking out with Sharon, his secretary.

Meanwhile Jimbo's Aunt Vicky leads a protest against a fundamentalist book ban and rails against American H-bomb tests on Bikini. James sets out to solve the case of what he calls TheHardy Boy and the Mystery of the Marital Estrangement, but when he meets Sharon's cousin, Trudy, and plummets into love himself, the mystery of what brings men and women together or keeps them apart only deepens into confusion and torment.

And James has more to learn than why we love and how we earn a mate both deserved and deserving. He's coming of age in a pivotal year in an era of repression and transition: the Brown decision, hardly two years old, meets die-hard resistance among segregationists; Rosa Parks has just refused to take a back seat; playwright Arthur Miller marries Marilyn Monroe and gets a contempt citation from the House Un-American Activities Committee; Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver lose in a landslide to Ike and Dick Nixon; Ed Sullivan claims he'll never let "Elvis the Pelvis" on his TV show; and a southern senator warns Americans against the insidious influence of "foreign" films. In Jimbo's hometown of Dallas, right-wing complaints of "Red" artists succeed in censoring a traveling art show sponsored by the United States Information Agency; civil defense drills sweep the nation to prepare Americans for nuclear war; sponsor General Electric withdraws an episode of the wildly popular drama "Medic" because it reveals too much about a Caesarean section; and abortions are so forbidden even descriptions of them are stricken from books.

How such things-things he might've thought remote and irrelevant-come to bear heavily on his green life is the thrust of his summer's education, and he leaves New Mexico on the cusp not so much of manhood but of adult responsibility.

 

About C. W. Smith

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C. W. Smith is currently a professor of English at Southern Methodist University.
 
Published August 1, 1998 by Texas Christian University Press. 344 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Understanding Women

Publishers Weekly

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A time of book banning, red baiting and the denial of a woman's right to an abortion, Smith's 1950s are a dismal era redeemed only by their proximity to the 1960s. The two decades clash in the persons

Aug 03 1998 | Read Full Review of Understanding Women

Publishers Weekly

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While the specific reasons for the separation are foggy, the reasons that Waylan and Vicky got married are a complete mystery (Vicky, who reads Nabokov, defends the Rosenbergs and campaigns for Adlai Stevenson, complains with evident justice that Waylan would like to keep her ""barefoot and in th...

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