The Sterile Cuckoo - Book by John Nichols

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MaxE
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11 Dec 2019, 10:03 pm

Some people here may be familiar with the film by that name but I doubt many have read the book. I just finished reading it this past weekend. Some observations:

1.) Many people here identify with the main protagonist Pookie. From seeing the film, some have concluded she might be on the Autism spectrum. This is less likely for the character in the book. The Pookie in the film is heard to call her contemporaries "weirdos" which seems like a way for an Aspie to charactierize NTs. I don't believe she used this expression in the book.
2.) In fact, in the book Pookie is much less of a social outcast and her boyfriend Jerry very much less of a nerd than depicted in the film. Pookie's "issues" are more likely psychiatric than neurological, and apart from having some sort of psychiatric diagnosis, probably result from having been raised in a dysfunctional family, being physically "underdeveloped" (at least as compared to a Playboy centerfold) and having to wear glasses (contact lenses were much less commonplace in those days).
3.) Nevertheless, Pookie is an extremely complex character and one wonders how the author created her. Was she based on people he met IRL? BTW Jerry must be at least somewhat based on the author, who according to this biography "The summer he was 16, he traveled West, spending a week in Taos, then working at a scientific research station in Portal, AZ, and fighting forest fires in the Chiricahua Mountains." In the first scene of the book, Jerry is shown returning home from a similar such summer adventure.
4.) The protagonists consume prodigious amounts of alcohol (they also all seem to smoke). This novel takes place during the last couple years of the 1950s when such behavior was far more tolerated than today, however it's hard not to see the story as a cautionary tale regarding alcohol. No idea however what the author is telling us about this. Characters do injure themselves, sometimes seriously, more than once while in this condition. Although I was just a child at this time in history, it is still somewhat poignant for me to relive life as a college student in NY State back when the drinking age was 18 and local taverns happily catered to college students.
4a.) The film does show a few college scenes in which characters are depicted drinking Utica Club but this would have been quite typical at that time and place. Nothing like the almost constant state of inebriation experienced by the characters in the book.
5.) In Chapter 8 (I believe) there are a couple of rather disturbing incidents that were probably considered far less disturbing at the time the book was published (1965). One is a blatantly racist sort of drunken game plus a sexual assault for which the perpetrator is basically forgiven.

Maybe I don't read enough "mainstream" literature. This book certainly gave me a lot to think about. I wish I could ask the author (who is apparently still alive and is better known for very different sorts of books and screenplays he wrote later in his career) about a lot of the creative choices he made in this book and how he feels about them from today's perspective.


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auntblabby
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11 Dec 2019, 10:25 pm

one bit that stuck with me, was -

"Oh, hi ho in the lavender wood
A sterile cuckoo is crying.
Oh, hi ho in the lavender snow
A sterile cuckoo is dying.
In the darkness of her heart
It is always three o'clock in the morning
."

there is a sad mystery in those words.