The Serial: a year in the life of Marin County by Cyra McFadden

I enjoyed this book when I first read it almost thirty years ago, and I’ve been re-reading it on my long journey home (still not over). I still think it’s brilliant, but those intervening years have made me appreciate the satirical style more fully. That and the fact that this time there is a preface by McFadden which makes clear that her impetus to write this book was what she saw (I paraphrase) as the increasingly warped use of words and their tenuous link with meaning.

Basically it’s about Kate and Harvey, who live in a self-regarding, consciousness-raising bubble in San Francisco in the mid 1970s. It has 52 chapters – it was originally serialised – and each one is full of delights for the analytical and critical (but hopefully not sneering) reader: “Participatory Salad Making”;  Kate’s wardrobe of “proletarian-chic overalls” and tap-dancing shorts; food and therapies as an all-important indicator of the Inner You . . . oh, I could go on for ever.

I first read it – as I always do – as a story, albeit a satirical one. I remember comparing it to Alison Lurie, then later to Armistead Maupin but without his underlying warmth towards the characters. This time round I see McFadden’s skewering of “follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies” as merciless and salutary, and I think about The History Man.

So, a reminder:

What did matter was being true to yourself, getting centered, and realizing, as another friend had so eloquently put it recently when she and Kate were rapping about self-realization, that “life was a part of existence”.

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