Wow, this reprint of a 1956 bestseller is dynamite! I’ll just tell you what happens in the first chapter: Fifteen year old Courtney (this novel is what led to Courtney becoming a popular girl’s name, just as Charlotte Bronte gave us Shirley as a girl’s name, both names originally being for boys) lounges around with her naked roommate Janet and tells her about how her parents each thought the other was taking her for vacation so she got stuck at boarding school. Janet warns Courtney that she’s gone overboard in her crush for a female teacher and that she’ll end up queer. Courtney goes to meet with this teacher, Miss Rosen. They talk a little about Finnegan’s Wake and Courtney tells her that she doesn’t think of herself as a woman and ever since she can remember she’s been male in her dreams. Then Miss Rosen tells her she doesn’t want to spend time alone with Courtney anymore because Courtney should make friends with her peers, and Courtney is devestated.
The novel follows Courtney for about two years from boarding school to Hollywood to NYC’s Upper East Side. I think I enjoyed this novel more as an adult than I would have as a teenager, because when I was a kid I got frustrated by stories where people were supposed to be “sophisticated” and that meant being exploited, abused, depressed, and constantly drunk. Parts of Chocolates for Breakfast seem very authentic and true to life, and other parts seem like a naive young person’s idea of what ought to be in a shocking novel. But since I was not alive during the 1950’s I could have the two completely backwards.
The story of the author Pamela Moore, who was eighteen when this novel was originally published and dead by suicide at 26, is as interesting as the novel. I get the impression that being a teenaged internationally-bestselling writer isn’t as sensational an experience as you’d think. She wrote several more novels, but they didn’t do well. When she died, she left behind a husband and baby son. At the end of the book there are some interesting essays on Pamela Moore, including one by her son. There are also some manuscript pages of material that was cut from the book either by Moore herself, her editor, or her agent, mostly homoerotic passages about Miss Rosen and stuff about suicide.
I love seeing a forgotten classic back in print and ready to be enjoyed by a new generation, especially a forgotten classic by a woman writer. I really wish I could discuss this book with my mom, who was born just one year earlier than Pamela Moore and most likely read this book. But the world is not a wish-granting factory &c.
The part where I complain querulously about trivial matters: I feel a reprint should not have so many typos. Also, what’s going on with the cover, which seems to be a stock photo of a contemporary girl in contemporary clothes? The cover does not say 1950s or, well, anything, to me.
Theme song: Gloomy Sunday by Billie Holiday
Other book like this one: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, just a little bit.
Trigger warning for: neglectful parents, M/C being molested by various men (“having an affair”), dating violence, frequent use of homophobic slurs, bisexual character who hates himself for not being a real man, cutting, being in the bin (“sanitarium”), casual mention of date rape, abusive parents, mentally ill parents, and suicide.