[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
I’m not in Skokie anymore . . . finding sex, love, and politics in my first time away from home.
Going away to college is one the defining moments in anyone’s life, and for Scags Morgenstern, the heroine of Deborah Emin’s Scags at 18, her first semester at an elite Vermont college, where she’s a scholarship student, shifts her world.
Told in the first person as diary entries, Scags’ first semester expresses the questioning and discovery that comes with growing into adulthood. And as diary entries, we learn much about Scags’ present and interior lives, her backstory revealed in passing sentences, building a framework of who the freshman is and what she is staged to become.
Scags at 18 is the second of four books told in Scags’ voice. The first, Scags at 7, explores the young girl’s childhood, her friendships and family. Scags at 30 and Scags at 40 have yet to be released. Each book covers a season in her life, both literally and metaphorically.
When Scags arrives at her unnamed college, she makes a friend, the friend she always wanted, and falls in love with a handsome, troubled, and wealthy young man. Classes and relationships both offer challenges: Scags encounters sexism for the first time in her poetry class when her professor states that women are incapable of understanding, yet alone writing, poetry. But after Scags steals a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own from the library, her eyes are opened.
Before I read her essay, my life had the form of a series of distinct points on a line— events, things happened, one after the other, in the manner of this happened and then that happened. I did this. I did that. I haven’t done this but will do it. Everything neatly arranged. Life appeared to be a line that led somewhere, taking me somewhere based on what I did. Or didn’t do.
Here, at College, I am that fish caught too soon. What I am and what I know are not yet mature.
Discussions about art and feminism in her pottery classes and attending a reading by Adrienne Rich further open her heart and mind to her own creative possibilities and potential.
Two pivotal forces at college shape Scags’ growth. She falls in love with Charles, a wealthy wastrel student and goes on the Pill—something he pays for, a charmingly chivalrous and archaic gesture. Politically active and involved in drug culture, Charles provides Scags with view of life far different from that in her hometown. While she shuns his pot smoking and by extension the Beatles—Abbey Road comes out, and she won’t listen to it with Charles and his friends, equating the band with drugs. But when he asks her to attend the anti-war rally in Washington DC with him and his friends, she accepts, and drops acid for the first time. There she experiences new layers of interior and exterior life, shaped in part by her discussions the previous night with a pacifist priest. At the demonstration she wonders aloud why there is such a large protest about a war in a foreign land, while in the South Side of Chicago whole neighborhoods are under siege.
This aspect of Scags develops out of a random stroll through the Town, when Scags encounters a day care center and inadvertently ends up working there as a tutor. She begins to more deeply realize class differences and the symbiotic relationship between Town and College, as well as the differences between her and Charles, especially when he angrily confronts her about her tutoring, feeling himself jealous and betrayed by Scags having a life apart from him:
He thought I should quit and that I didn’t need the money or to take the time away from my own work to tend to the needs of some little kid who wouldn’t be able to rise out of the poverty he was in because some “nice girl from the College took pity on him and taught him his multiplication tables.”…He continued to “explain” to me how using my guilt to help someone was doing, perhaps, the right thing but for all the wrong reasons and it was sure to blow up in my face…
Somewhere in that gap between the way we live up at the College and the people in the Town have to live, there is a great injustice. All of it seems to be due to accidents of birth rather than some design or contest that proved who should have what.
It is ultimately an insensitive remark by Charles about Scags’ background that causes the book’s tragic conclusion, and paves the way for the sequel, which takes place twelve years later.
Scags at 18 is a time capsule which contains valid and important stories for readers alive during the 1960s to their grandchildren. The collegiate experiences of friendships, both lasting and transient, struggles with new ideas melding with preconceived expectations, the coming of age joys and sorrows are expressed through a heroine who is introspective and at times hard-headed, a girl-women who has survived family difficulties and now in college must cope with a world of new emotions as life continues to deliver gifts and blows.