One of the interesting aspects of writing a novel set in the early 1960s is that many of the people who read my book lived through the era.
I’ve heard from many women (my own mother included) who remember having feelings similar to Jackie Hart, my lead character in Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society. A middle-aged wife and mother of three, Jackie is restless and feels more than a bit unappreciated but she lives at a time when women’s options were far more limited.
One scene in particular has older women readers cheering: After a fight with her husband, who has made the mistake of saying that she is “just a housewife,” Jackie impulsively trades in her oh-so-practical staton wagon for a 1960 Buick LeSabre two-door convertible. It’s a moment of rebellion; Jackie’s own declaration of independence.
Before finding the perfect car, however, Jackie encounters the type of discimination against women that is all too common at the time. At the first dealership she visits, she spots her dream car and is ready to buy it. Even with trading-in the station wagon, however, she is $250 short, and asks for a loan in that amount.
That’s when the salesman says,”We can’t do a loan without your husband signing it.That’s the way it is.
Jackie walks out. This particular car is out of her grasp.
Now, women who are old enough to remember the Bad Old Days write to me and say, “Yes! That’s the way it was! Thank you for writing this!” And then they tell me of their own experiences of being discriminated against.
Younger women will write to me and say, “Are you kidding me? Is this for real? She couldn’t get a loan without her husband knowing about it and approving it? Was this legal?”
When I write back and say, “Yes, this kind of thing happened all the time and, yes, it was legal,” they are outraged.
As they should be.
I’m happy to help young people become more aware of the past. As for older women, it’s a joy to have written something that validates their experiences.
What I love most, however, is when younger and older women end up talking to each other, as happens frequently when I do a book talk. It’s nothing short of thrilling to realize that my little book has sparked many meaningful dialogues.