Theodora Keogh’s Meg

I just finished reading Theodora Keogh’s 1950 novel Meg, which is about the eponymous protagonist’s struggles with her entrance into womanhood in the year before she turns thirteen. I am generally not a fan of books that are primarily about children (two major exceptions are Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Miriam Toews’s The Flying Troutmans), but Meg is a thought-provoking, well-written book. It is a cross between Judy Blume and Lolita, with the salacious bits just titillating enough to keep the reader’s attention without causing them too much worry about Meg’s fate, and the more innocent parts genuine enough as to not verge into sappiness.

What impresses me most about the novel is how prescient it is about the enforced conformity of the decade that followed its publication. Nothing much scandalous happens (There are constant hints that something will–Will Meg be seduced by her best friend’s father? Will she be kidnapped by a child molester? and so on–but the only time the book lives up to its luridly suggestive cover is when Meg loses her virginity to a slightly older boy, an experience that is neither pleasurable nor traumatic for her. Her description of the experience is beautifully profound: “‘What did it feel like?’ She thought a moment as she buttoned on her blouse. ‘Well, it was as if there was no place and you were making one, only you never quite got to make it.'” [95]), but the book feels subversive simply because it portrays characters who are unsatisfied by the roles society assigns them and want something more. Unfortunately, as is par for the course in most 1950s pulp fiction, most of the characters are punished for their differences. The prostitute Miss Tracy is murdered by her pimp, and Meg blackmails her history teacher when she finds out that she is a lesbian in order to get a passing grade. Aside from this one act, though, the reader roots for Meg, and she happily gets through the book relatively unscathed, albeit wiser, and the reader knows that she won’t grow up to be the kind of adult drone which the novel writes against.

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