"You married a man who voted for Reagan?" ….or That’s My Baby

This isn’t the best image, sorry. But you can still get a feel for it. Paul looking at Zoe, thinking “Sweet sassy molassy, those are some hot fucking mom jeans.” And Zoe looking down at Paul’s crotch thinking, “If I look up at your ridiculous large hair I’m going to laugh. So I’ll just glance down and….oh what’s this? Your sweet eighteen year old cock…..” The whole thing is vair vair 80’s. Which it was. The book was published in 1988, which means it was one of Norma Klein’s last. (She died in 1989. More specifically, she died on my twelfth birthday.)

Paul Gold is 18 years old, and an aspiring playwright. The child of divorced parents who had him when they were teenagers, Paul lives in Manhattan with his dad most of the time, as his high school, Hamilton, is located there. Hamilton is the school for “intellectually gifted” kids. Paul’s mom lives a middle class existence in the ‘burbs with her husband and two young kids, which Paul is snobbishly derisive of. Paul had this friend Sonya, who goes to Hamilton and lives in his building. They’d been friends for a long time. Several months before this story started, Sonya and Paul got wasted and they slept together. Then Paul, was all “oooh. Sorry, toots. I don’t like you like that.” But Sonya did like Paul like that. So Sonya has turned into a raging bitch toward Paul.

Paul notices a sign for a dog-walker in the building. He answers the ad, and meets Zoe Bernstein, a 22 year old wife and college student. Paul is instantly attracted to Zoe, and he takes the job walking the dog, even though he can’t stand Zoe’s fourteen year old Yorkie, Baby. He’s jealous of Zoe’s husband, a 34 year old business man whose name also happens to be Paul. Paul (the kid, not the husband) becomes friendly with Zoe. And even friendlier..and friendlier. Until one day, it happens. Paul buys her a book of love poetry. And they start their torrid affair.

And things are good. I mean, as long as you don’t look at it from Zoe’s husband’s point of view, I guess. Paul is deeply in love with Zoe. But we (the readers) kinda get the feeling that Zoe loves her husband, but has an unsatisfactory love life, for which she’s using Paul. (The kid, not the husband).

In the meantime, Paul writes a play for a contest for his school’s theater group. It’s all about his fucked up relationship with his former friend Sonya. Who, by the way, is now fucking Paul’s best friend, the oddly named Wolf. His play wins this contest and it’s going to be performed….and Sonya is fucking pissed. Also Wolf’s directing, so….awkward. Then a bunch of parents overhear what the play is about, and don’t want it performed. Sonya and Paul’s friendship solidifies over trying to fight for this play. But it’s all for naught and Paul’s play is officially pulled.

Paul and Zoe continue their relationship, and Paul believes he’s falling in love with Zoe. He even decides to go to Sarah Lawrence because of all the colleges he applied to, it’s the closest to Manhattan. But then Zoe ends up pregnant. And Paul is completely indignant that she’s ruining her life to take the mommy-track. And Zoe is the one who has to spell it out for him, because despite being intellectually gifted, he’s acting pretty fucking stupid. The baby just might be his. Then he’s pissed that what could possibly be his child, might be raised by a fucking Reaganite. Which is kind of funny that that’s what he thinks because there were LOTS Reaganites in 1988. (I mean, except maybe in Minnesota and Washington, DC – Go Mondale!)

So Zoe and Paul break up, because Zoe isn’t an idiot (adulterer, yes. Idiot, no) and she knows that she needs to have this baby and raise it with husband Paul, not idiot kid Paul. Paul goes to Sarah Lawrence and writes a play about a 19 year old who takes a job as a dog walker and starts an affair with an older married neighbor. The play is accepted by some off-off-Broadway theater company and Paul gets his first play performed. So yay. Then about a year later, he goes to visit Zoe at her new suburban Connecticut home and sees her daughter, Juliet. Juliet looks just like the husband and Paul knows she isn’t his. Nothing happens, no more one last jump in the sack. They just have lunch and that’s pretty much the end of the book.

  • Do teenagers really refer to having sex as making love? Because they do in this book, and it seems a little…off to me. Don’t they just say sex or fuck?
  • I’m actually going to be a little anti-feminist here and take Paul’s side over Sonya’s in their little fight. A-They were both drunk. B-She came on to him first. C-Sure he could have told her that he didn’t love her BEFORE fucking her, but please refer to point A.
  • Excellent Jerry Fallwell reference right on page 23, may he rot in hell.
  • After meeting Zoe’s husband Paul, kid Paul realizes that opposites attract. “Does that mean I’ll end up with a woman with the brain the size of a pea who reads comic books and paints her toenails purple?” Fuck you Paul. My toenails are purple right now. I don’t read comic books, but obviously I do read books meant for kids and teenagers. Sooo….what are you saying about me?
  • Paul’s dad, who is only 36, is getting married. And Paul is all “OMG, they’re in their thirties. Why don’t they just elope?” God, the wisdom of kids. I remember when I thought thirties was over the hill.
  • The 80’s were better in many ways. Not the least of which is that the drinking age was still 18. And I could go on about how we infantilize teenagers enough without adding to it that we don’t trust them to learn how to hold alcohol properly….but that would require me to basically write a thesis. So let’s just say, down with the 21 drinking age 😦
  • OK, I get it that Paul and his friends are “intellectually gifted.” But do “intellectually gifted” teenagers actually use the following words in casual conversation? Verisimilitude, Magnanimous, Obsequious (which is used wrong), and Insouciantly. Any readers who were in gifted programs care to answer me that?
  • Paul calls his parents by their first names. Even though I actually know people who do this (and I have a tendency toward calling my dad by his first name at times), something about it in books feels false to me.
  • Paul thinks he’s a bit of a feminist by looking down on housewives and women who get married young, and really who do the whole wife and mom bit, especially if they move to suburbia to do it. But I’m going to argue that when women choose to do that, that is real feminism. Because I do consider myself a feminist, and though I work part time, my husband and I are working toward moving to allow me to be an at-home mom full time and to have more kids. And yes, we’ll have to move even further into suburbia (into….exurbia…shudders) to do it. Do I have to give up my feminist card for that? So fuck off Paul, you’re a pampered 18 year old. You don’t know dick.
  • Norma Klein characters tend to have many things in common: teenagers (obviously) who are somehow gifted, have sex, have permissive parents, and are non-observant Jews, living in New York. And yet her books somehow don’t seem to be absolute repeats of each other.
  • God, Norma Klein wrote soooo many books. There’s a list of 38 other titles in the front of this book! I think I read maybe 8-10 of them. Does anybody remember the title of the one where the main characters are twins (boy and girl) and they start a restaurant in their neighbor’s house one summer? Because that might be a snark-worthy plot right there.

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
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7 Responses to "You married a man who voted for Reagan?" ….or That’s My Baby

  1. Wow – my favourite Norma Klein, Beginner's Love, is also about teenagers living in New York with permissive parents! And I'm pretty sure at least one person is a non-observant Jew. But you're right, it's nothing like this one. Is there any reason for the Paul/Paul thing?

  2. Taren says:

    I've only read one Norma Klein book -Just Friends- and I'm pretty sure it fits all the criteria you listed.

  3. Sadako says:

    I read this, Just Friends, and No More Saturday Nights which I think you recapped a while ago.Does Paul write any plays that aren't about his life? He's so pulling a Mallory Pike!Also my toenails are purple now, too. Very dark purple but still. Suck it, Paul, purple is in! 🙂

  4. mathnerd314 says:

    The title you're looking for is "It's Not What You'd Expect". I found my old copy in my parents' house this summer–except for the twins' ages (sixteen would make more sense than fourteen), you can almost believe the plot could work. For a really good Norma Klein time, read "Domestic Arrangements" followed by "Family Secrets".

  5. Anonymous says:

    Every time I'm at the used book store, I'm hunting up Norma Klein books that I don't yet have. I thought I was doing good, but if there are at least 38…Maybe if you just recap them all then I can quit looking for them.

  6. nikki says:

    Anon: When I worked at a used bookstore in the mid to late 90's we were flush with Norma Klein books. Now when I go, I'm lucky to find one or two titles. I even had to use a paperbackswap.com credit to get my favorite, Going Backwards!mathnerd314 – Thanks for the title. I'm going to a new used bookstore today. Maybe they'll have that one!Also, forgot to mention in the post, Paul's first play is called Just Friends. Which is also the name of a NK book (as Sadako & Taren pointed out!)

  7. Why were the covers on these always so terrible? It used to really bug me when the book would describe characters who looked nothing like they did on the covers.

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