Maynard, Joyce 1953–

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Maynard, Joyce 1953–


Born 1953 in Exeter, NH; daughter of Max (a university English teacher, writer, and painter) and Fredelle (a teacher, lecturer, and writer) Maynard; married Steve Bethel (divorced); children: Audrey, Charlie, Willy. Education: Attended Yale University and Dartmouth College.


Home—Mill Valley, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


New York Times, New York, NY, editorial writer, reporter, and writer for syndicated "Hers" column. Radio and television commentator for Columbia Broadcasting System. Has taught at the University of Southern Maine.


Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, 2003, for The Usual Rules; California Book Award for best young adult novel, Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, for The Cloud Chamber.


Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.

Baby Love (novel), Knopf (New York, NY), 1981, published as Baby Love: Too Young for Love but Not for Making Babies, Avon (New York, NY), 1982.

Camp-Out (children's fiction), illustrated by Steve Bethel, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1985.

Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life (nonfiction), Times Books (New York, NY), 1987.

New House (children's fiction), illustrated by Steve Bethel, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1987.

To Die For (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.

Where Love Goes (novel), Crown (New York, NY), 1995.

At Home in the World: A Memoir, Picador (New York, NY), 1998.

The Usual Rules (novel), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.

To Die For (play; adapted from the author's novel of the same title), produced in New York, NY, at Player's Club, 2003.

The Cloud Chamber (young adult novel), Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.

Internal Combustion: The True Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Seventeen, Mademoiselle, McCall's, Woman's Day, O, the Oprah Magazine, Forbes, New York Times Magazine, and Newsweek. Television columnist for Vogue. Author of syndicated column "Domestic Affairs."


To Die For was produced as a film, starring Nicole Kidman, directed by Gus Van Sant, Columbia, 1995. At Home in the World and The Cloud Chamber were adapted as audiobooks.


In the spring of 1972 New Hampshire teenager Joyce Maynard appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine issue that contained her autobiographical essay "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life." Maynard, who reflected on the events and attitudes that had come to shape her "generation of unfulfilled expectations," was immediately hailed as a spokesperson for her contemporaries, and her much-discussed article was expanded into the 1973 book Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties.

In her essay, Maynard described her generation as languid and world-weary, bombarded by powerful media images that brought not "the heightened perceptivity we boast of" but a "numbness, anesthesia." "We're tired," she elaborated, "more from boredom than exertion, old without being wise, worldly not from seeing the world but from watching it on television." She added, "We share a common visual idiom and have far less room for personal vision." Robbed, in a way, of youthful innocence by these omnipresent reflections of the world and its concerns, Maynard and her peers engaged in the traditional "parties and pranks and dances and soccer games … [but] knew just enough to feel guilty." While encouraged to be "progressive and creative and free-thinking," Maynard continued, members of her generation were pressured relentlessly to conform to a permissive sex-and-drug lifestyle, to adopt the group identity defined by the news media. Most disquieting of all, according to the young writer, was her generation's assumed coolness, where "you're not supposed to care too much" and "any serious expression of emotion is branded sentimental and old-fashioned." "If we have any ambition at all now, it is not so much the drive to get ahead as it is the drive to get away," concluded Maynard, who wrote that her own plans for her twenties included "just a small plot of earth … a little house, a comfortable chair."

Detailing her youth in Looking Back, Maynard extends her observations to include those of her generation. This tactic sometimes proved problematic, however, according to critics. In the New York Times Book Review, for instance, Annie Gottlieb determined that because Maynard "tries to be both exemplar and critic … [she] often talks in group images, in generalities, and while these will be familiar to anyone from a similar background, they produce a soft thud of recognition instead of the sharp, pleasant shock of glimpsing one's self in another's individualities." "It's a real case of viewpoint ventriloquism," David Tipmore similarly remarked in a review for the Village Voice; "one minute she's just Joyce laying it on about being a collegiate virgin—and the next she's … schmoozing about generalizational plights and problems like a whiz kid Norman Vincent Peale." Also feeling that Maynard's "direct and funny perceptions of personal experiences are too often blurred by the attempt to define them in generalized terms," Times Literary Supplement critic Catherine Tennant wrote that "Looking Back is a sociological document about a person who perhaps has given too great an importance to just such documents"—an observation reiterated by a Saturday Review of Education critic, who noted: "For Miss Maynard everything is terribly, oppressively important, and consequently her book has no particular perspective or point of view." Still, "[Looking Back's] limitation is also its value," maintained Gottlieb. "It is a criticism from within, and as such it must be respected, for if its insights are often obvious … they are obviously personally arrived at, and they can be wonderfully penetrating and aphoristic. … [Maynard] willingly took the risk of exposing herself as typical—in which there's a curious courage." The reviewer added: "The lesson of her book is that if you buy what the media are selling, you get shoddy, short-lived goods, that the task of the times may be to close one's mind to the flow of easy symbols and prepackaged interpretations and try to find one's own fresh, direct relation to the world."

While working during the next several years as a freelance writer, Maynard published her novel Baby Love in 1981. When considering the project, Maynard said, she asked herself whose lives she wished she knew more about; "the first people who came to mind," she told Library Journal, "were the young girls I'm always seeing down at the laundromat in my town: skinny girls in midriff tops, listening to the radio, teaching each other dance steps, always with babies on their hips." Baby Love shows the dreams and struggles of four such New Hampshire teenage mothers, as well as the lives of other town inhabitants whose fates dramatically converge. "The book starts out, then, as a kind of informal sociological study, focusing on a group of poorly equipped, poorly educated young people with limited dreams, their visions of the ideal formed by what they glimpse on TV and in popular magazines," related novelist Anne Tyler in the New York Times Book Review. "It is a pleasure, almost a voyeuristic pleasure, to observe the details of their lives."

While adding that Baby Love "is an entirely different sort of work" for Maynard, Tyler found much in the novel that recalled Looking Back. "The tone is the same: right on target, cued to the rangy, slangy rhythms of modern life, though lacking the embarrassing archness that characterized the earlier piece," commented the critic. "The issues of Baby Love—babies, love, sex, youth, music and television—have always been Maynard's favorite subjects," noted Washington Post Book World reviewer Suzanne Freeman, "but it is here in this shift to the novel form that she finally deals with them best. Fiction has taken away both the cutesiness and preachiness that a young memoir-writer is liable to. Gone, as well, is the kind of misspent world-weariness that would prompt a 19-year-old to talk about ‘growing up old.’" Discussing Baby Love in the Saturday Review, Michelle Green noted a reappearance of Maynard's earlier concerns as well, remarking that "unfulfilled expectations, alienation, and lost innocence [are] the very same spiritual plagues that afflict the characters in her first novel." The critic elaborated: "In Baby Love, Maynard's female protagonists feel that something is lacking in their lives. They turn to motherhood (or to men) to achieve ‘total passionate devotion,’ the only antidote, they think, for their elusive malaise…. In Maynard's world, however, there is a considerable gap between what is supposed to be and what is."

In a review for Esquire James Wolcott, too, determined that "the message telegraphed by Maynard on page after page is that … these women get pregnant [because] their lives are so woefully empty. By filling up their wombs, they hope to swell their lives with drama and significance." The critic found such an incessant focus on emptiness wearing, however, and regretted that "emotionally and sexually, the novel seldom rises above a sigh…. Maynard often writes about her wayward characters with sympathy and compassion, but condescension and mawkish pity soak through her pages like rising damp. She reduces her characters' souls to cinders and never allows them to catch flame." "Maynard's prose is sparse, her characters are deftly drawn, and her pacing is brisk," conceded Green. "But there's a queer hollow quality about the book, as if the author became alienated from her own work. Maynard holds her fecund females at arm's length. At times, it's difficult to tell whether she's mocking them or asking us merely to take note of their foibles." Reviewing Baby Love in Newsweek, Jean Strouse also acknowledged "poignant moments," "funny scenes," and the author's "fine ear for idiom," but she reiterated that Maynard "undermines the poignancy and humor of her story with … condescension." She added: "Clever as it is, the novel calls more attention to the author than to her characters. In a better book it would be the other way around."

For critics Freeman and Tyler, Baby Love's numerous characters and events diluted an otherwise accomplished drama of ordinary life. With more than a dozen major characters—including an artsy couple from New York City, a demented old woman intent on kidnapping her grandchild, and a homicidal psychiatric patient and the lonely, bulimic woman who answers his personal ad—"-what's clear at the start," decided Freeman, "is not necessarily always clear at the finish." While praising Maynard's invention, energetic prose, and original characters, the reviewer remarked that "seventeen characters may, all of a sudden, equal 17 loose ends, especially in a first novel…. Despite the strong writing, there is finally just too much dial-flipping, too many stories to watch. Maynard's show simply fuzzes away as if the picture tube had been overworked." "Things go too far…. Zaniness intrudes; wacky comedy makes its clanging entrance," Tyler similarly averred, while otherwise praising the novel. "It's a pity, because the heart of Baby Love is a very fine book indeed," she asserted. "When Joyce Maynard talks about ordinary life … she shows uncommon promise. She has an unswerving eye, a sharply perked ear, and the ability to keep her readers hanging on her words."

Maynard's 1987 collection, Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life, contains nine years of her writings for the New York Times's nationally syndicated "Hers" column. Maynard details her life as a wife, mother of three, and freelance writer in rural New Hampshire. "In my newspaper days I wrote chiefly about isolated events and extraordinary phenomena," she stated, "now I document ordinary daily life." Noting that "Joyce Maynard documents her own experiences as a wife and mother with … reassuring good humor and optimism," Washington Post Book World critic Elizabeth Ward decided: "For my money, books such as … [her] delightful Domestic Affairs … are worth any number of tomes by the Spocks, Leaches and Brazeltons of the day." "Not that Joyce Maynard is offering advice," elaborated the reviewer. "Rather—and this may be the point—she is offering herself, in an unusually personal way, as a companion in experiences that we all go through and which are sometimes joyous, sometimes mind-threatening, but always drainingly intense…. Mothers need to believe … that they are not alone," Ward added. "There's something singularly exciting about discovering companionship-in-adversity in print."

Discussing Domestic Affairs in the New York Times Book Review, Frances Wells Burck noted that "Maynard is at her best in the longer, less structured pieces, where she exercises her gift for describing the most commonplace domestic rituals." People reviewer Mary Vespa found that "Maynard does have a tendency to romanticize [and] … can be pretentious too," but Vespa also found Maynard "painfully honest and sometimes eloquent on the subjects that are closest to her heart: her kids and husband…. While at times the essays are repetitious, in an odd way the collective effect is comforting: It's a confirmation of the power of that mysterious and indestructible force known as maternal love." "Joyce Maynard's essays [are] a joy and a reaffirmation of the value of family life," concurred Ward. "The book somehow transcends the fragmentariness of its parts to offer a rounded self-portrait of a person about whom one wants unequivocally to say: This is a nice woman and a good mother and practically everything she has to say cheers, refreshes or gives pause."

Maynard based her 1991 novel, To Die For, on a real-life crime that occurred in her native New Hampshire. Jean Smart, a high-school teacher, seduced one of her students and convinced him and two of his friends to murder her husband. In Maynard's novel, the main character is Suzanne Maretto, a self-absorbed young woman who will do anything to become famous. To that end, she takes a menial job at the local television station, eventually becoming the weather announcer. Deciding that her husband, Larry—a dull fellow who manages his father's restaurant—is holding her back, Suzanne scouts out would-be killers at the local high school by doing a documentary on youth. She then seduces a sixteen-year-old, Jimmy Emmet, and casts her strange spell over two of his friends, Lydia Mertz and Russell Hines. This trio does away with Larry. Suzanne escapes punishment through legal means, but her husband is eventually avenged by his family.

Reviewers varied in their assessment of To Die For, which is related in first-person, documentary-style narratives in the voices of many different characters. Francesca Lia Block called it "a harsh and seductive page-turner" in the New York Times Book Review, and she found Maynard's handling of the multiple viewpoints well-done: "As Ms. Maynard skillfully cuts from one to another, their voices are distinct and immediate, building dramatic and psychologically penetrating portraits. At times, the relentlessness of the plotting can seem oppressive (as can Suzanne's obsession with the news media), but Ms. Maynard provides relief in quiet moments when we are allowed to see these characters from unexpected yet intersecting angles." Barbara Jacobs was less enthusiastic, yet still positive, commenting in Booklist that "the writing's breezy and loose, occasionally insightful. But it's hard to care about any of the protagonists' and antagonists' angst other than on an entertainment level." Jacobs also found the multiple viewpoints difficult to decipher. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concurred that there was not enough differentiation between the narrative voices, and noted that Suzanne is "so single-minded, manipulative and obtuse that she is essentially a caricature." Yet that critic went on to say: "Maynard is, however, more deft in her portrayal of our pervasive, pernicious TV culture, especially its influence on the lower middle class."

After publishing Where Love Goes, a novel about a single mother balancing career, romance, and parenthood, Maynard produced At Home in the World: A Memoir, a work that recounts her ill-fated affair with J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye. The unusual relationship began in 1972 after the fifty-three-year-old Salinger wrote a fan letter to May- nard, praising her essay "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life." Maynard quickly responded, and the two commenced a fervent correspondence. After visiting Salinger at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, Maynard dropped out of college and moved in with the divorced writer, whom she called Jerry. According to Biblio contributor Peter Szatmary: "The Salinger that emerges throughout At Home in the World is familiar: a witty, neurotic crank of homespun theories. He likes Jane Austen, vaudeville, the neighbors on I Love Lucy, and B movies. A practitioner of homeopathy, he makes Maynard eat peas and whole-grain bread for breakfast, fiddlehead ferns and apples for lunch, lamb patties for dinner, popcorn with tamari sauce for snacks. He adheres to self-denial and meditation. He rails against doctors, politicians, editors. He's partial to wearing jumpsuits, à la a car mechanic."

The straight-laced, virginal Maynard and Salinger stayed together only ten months; their relationship ended abruptly during a vacation in Florida, when Salinger told her to return home, pack up, and leave. "Although she avoids ever suggesting it, it could be argued that Salinger ruined Maynard's life," observed Chris Kraus in the Nation. "At any rate, her encounter with him greatly shaped it. When Salinger projects himself into her life, Maynard was living outside her troubled, claustrophobic family for the first time, and despite her annoying precocity, she was starting to make friends at Yale. Her writing receives a phenomenal success, which, however fluky, she enjoys. Salinger draws her wholly into his world."

A number of reviewers expressed concerns about Maynard's decision to publish the work. "In this memoir-happy era …," remarked Time contributor Elizabeth Gleick, "the real question is where to draw the line between valid personal writing and mercenary gossip. Just because Salinger is a brute, should we feel satisfied that Maynard has shredded his privacy? Just because we are dying to know, does that mean we have the right to know?" Though Entertainment Weekly contributor Lisa Shwarzbaum raised similar questions about the author's motivations, she concluded: "The answer, in the end, may be in plain sight: Joyce Maynard is a writer. Writers aren't nice. They print things they shouldn't, just because they can. Surely J.D. Salinger must have known that when he took up with her. Maynard may have been young, but she was taking notes."

Maynard explores the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks in The Usual Rules, a "coming-of-age story of a girl whose mother goes to work one morning and does not come back," observed a contributor in Publishers Weekly. After losing her mother in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, thirteen-year-old Wendy leaves her stepfather and half-brother in Brooklyn and heads to California to live with her irresponsible, estranged biological father, Garrett. At her new home, Wendy befriends an eclectic group of individuals, including a homeless skateboarder, a kindly bookstore owner, and Garrett's cactus-growing girlfriend, forming a surrogate family in the process. According to New York Times Book Review critic Karen Karbo, Maynard's "gift for creating realistic and heartfelt domestic moments succeeds in convincing us that Wendy has found a reason to go on in the midst of her tremendous sorrow, and that she, like her heroine Anne Frank, still believes ‘in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.’" Writing in Booklist, Michele Leber called The Usual Rules "a well-wrought and heartfelt portrayal of the people left behind."

In 2005 Maynard published The Cloud Chamber, her first novel for a young adult audience. Set in rural Montana in the 1960s, the work concerns fourteen-year-old Nate Chance, a dairy farmer's son who becomes an outcast at school after his father attempts suicide. With the help of his equally shunned classmate, Naomi, Nate pours his energy into a science fair project in an attempt to reconnect with his father. According to Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson, "a bedrock of emotional authenticity underlies Maynard's storytelling," and a critic in Publishers Weekly remarked that the author "offers an intimate rendering of emotional anguish and a subtly conveyed meditation on survival and forgiveness."

Maynard investigates a grisly Mother's Day homicide in Internal Combustion: The True Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City. In 2004 Nancy Seaman, an award-winning fourth-grade teacher in suburban Detroit, took a hatchet and struck her husband, Bob, sixteen times before stabbing him another twenty-one times in the back. Claiming self-defense, Seaman testified that her abusive husband, an auto executive, had attacked her; she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Though Detroit Free Press reviewer Terry Lawson felt that Maynard relies too heavily on local reporters for her information, stating that Internal Combustion "reminds us again how invaluable real, scrupulously researched reportage can illuminate lives and events," other critics offered a more positive assessment of the work. Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher commented that Maynard's "portrayal of battered-woman syndrome is thought-provoking," and Deirdre Bray Root, writing in Library Journal, remarked that the author "tells the complex story of a desperately unhappy marriage."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 23, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.

Maynard, Joyce, Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.

Maynard, Joyce, Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life, Times Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Maynard, Joyce, At Home in the World: A Memoir, Picador (New York, NY), 1998.


Biblio, January, 1999, Peter Szatmary, review of At Home in the World: A Memoir, p. 58.

Booklist, November 15, 1991, Barbara Jacobs, review of To Die For, p. 579; August, 1995, Alice Joyce, review of To Die For, p. 1930; January 1, 2003, Michele Leber, review of The Usual Rules, p. 848; July, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 1917; August 1, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of Internal Combustion: The Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City, p. 4.

Detroit Free Press, October 11, 2006, Terry Lawson, review of Internal Combustion: The True Story of a Marriage and a Murder in the Motor City.

Entertainment Weekly, January 24, 1992, Gene Lyons, review of To Die For, p. 48; September 18, 1998, Lisa Shwarzbaum, review of At Home in the World, p. 79.

Esquire, August, 1981, James Wolcott, review of Baby Love: Too Young for Love but Not for Making Babies.

Horn Book, September-October, 2005, Christine M. Heppermann, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 583.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of The Usual Rules, p. 1558; January 1, 2003, Thomas Leitch, "Putting 9/11 to Work," review of The Usual Rules, p. 3; May 15, 2005, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 592; August 1, 2006, review of Internal Combustion, p. 769.

Kliatt, May, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of The Usual Rules, p. 20; July, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 13.

Library Journal, August 1, 1981, review of Baby Love, p. 1567; November 1, 1992, Regan Robinson, review of To Die For, p. 44; September 15, 1998, Wilda Williams, review of At Home in the World, p. 78; January, 2003, Nancy Pearl, review of The Usual Rules, p. 157; September 1, 2006, Deirdre Bray Root, review of Internal Combustion, p. 162.

Nation, November 16, 1998, Chris Kraus, review of At Home in the World, p. 36.

New Republic, August 24, 1987, April Bernard, review of Domestic Affairs: Enduring the Pleasures of Motherhood and Family Life, p. 31.

Newsweek, April 16, 1973, review of Looking Back, p. 110; August 24, 1981, Jean Strouse, review of Baby Love, p. 70; July 17, 1995, Laura Shapiro, review of Where Love Goes, p. 58; August 17, 1998, Laura Shapiro, "With Love and Squalor," p. 62.

New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1973, Annie Gottlieb, review of Looking Back, p. 26; August 16, 1981, Anne Tyler, review of Baby Love, pp. 8-9; July 19, 1987, Frances Wells Burck, review of Domestic Affairs, p. 20; October 25, 1987; January 19, 1992, Francesca Lia Block, review of To Die For, p. 24; September 10, 1995, Susan Bolotin, review of Where Love Goes, p. 26; February 16, 2003, Karen Karbo, "Lost Girl," review of The Usual Rules, p. 15.

New York Times Magazine, April 23, 1972, Joyce Maynard, "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life."

People, August 24, 1987, Mary Vespa, review of Domestic Affairs, p. 10; January 27, 1992, Sara Nelson review of To Die For, p. 27; March 3, 2003, review of The Usual Rules, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, November 1, 1991, review of To Die For, p. 71; June 12, 1995, review of Where Love Goes, p. 45; September 7, 1998, review of At Home in the World, p. 72; January 27, 2003, Dena Croog, "Rebuilding from out of the Rubble," review of The Usual Rules, p. 236; June 27, 2005, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 65.

Saturday Review, August, 1981, Michelle Green, review of Baby Love, p. 50.

Saturday Review of Education, May, 1973, review of Looking Back.

School Library Journal, July, 2003, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The Usual Rules, p. 152; July, 2005, Francisca Goldsmith, review of The Cloud Chamber, p. 106.

Time, September 7, 1998, Elizabeth Gleick, review of At Home in the World, p. 76.

Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 1975, Catherine Tennant, review of Looking Back, p. 418.

Village Voice, August 30, 1973, David Tipmore, review of Looking Back, p. 123.

Washington Post Book World, August 30, 1981, Suzanne Freeman, review of Baby Love, pp. 3, 11; July 5, 1987, Elizabeth Ward, review of Domestic Affairs.


Joyce Maynard Home Page, (May 1, 2007)., (February, 2004), "Joyce Maynard: Interview."