After a fitful first couple entries, Merton soon distinguishes himself as a shrewd observer and thinker, a writer aware of the limitations of his own perspective (“Perhaps the last statement was chauvinistic,” he concedes, after generalizing about the behavior of young men and women at a dance) and often eager to mock (“The Sorrow of Young Merton”) the self-pity that creeps inevitably into any young person’s journal. His trip to Europe and a subsequent breakup are particularly arresting, the accounts alive with vivid detail, self investigation, and accounts of conversations and encounters where others get the best lines.
Wonderful collegiate bull abounds. “A writer should perceive three realities,” he declares after a visit to the Charles Dickens museum, and then persuasively delineates them. Then, an entry later, he announces “Actually, after a night’s reflection, I’ve come to suppose that this theory of ‘three realities’ is hogwash.” His utter certainty in both instances illuminates, with crack comic timing, much about young thinkers’ brains. Other highlights include his attention to the culture of the day, his disquiet at the 1980 election (won by “the Rhinestone Cowboy”), and his faceoff with a creative writing instructor who insists that there’s no place in literature for flatulence. Armed with Chaucer and Rabelais, Merton proves him wrong. The collection is unwieldy and not always flattering, but it’s a valuable contribution to the literature of growing up and the 1970s.
Takeaway: These frank, arresting diaries from a University of Virginia student in the 1970s reveal a mind and an era.
Great for fans of: Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie, Paul Duffin’s Not Too Bad.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
“A thought-provoking glimpse into a young writer’s romances on a 1970s college campus … Here’s an unfiltered look at a young man’s social life at university in the late ‘70s that leaves us clawing to understand the man he would grow to become. Merton gives readers the intimate gift of his private being in The Charlottesville Diaries, a chance to witness this young man actively expanding and shaping his worldview on his own terms …” – Independent Book Review