Now she rallies her defenses
For she fears that one will ask her
And she's so busy being free.
I felt all my thirty-seven years when I read Norma Klein’s Domestic Arrangements. Why? Well, when fourteen year old Tatiana talks about having sex with her boyfriend like it’s a chore—like, do homework, brush teeth, and, oh yeah, have sex with boyfriend—I almost wanted to do a spit-take. I wanted to yell at her mother who encourages the sexual relationship: “Lady, are you out of your damned mind??? Get your daughter on the Pill, slip condoms under her door, maybe have her talk to Bristol Palin! (Wait she hasn’t been born yet, never mind!) Do something about your daughter having sex!”
Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is Norma Klein, darlings. Norma Klein was known for a few things: her sophisticated New Yorker teenagers, parents who had a laissez-faire attitude about sex, and sex itself. If Judy Blume’s characters took a field trip to New York, they would be in for a shock with everything Klein’s characters were going through, be it an affair with a favorite teacher, being a boy cheerleader, finding out your dad is having an affair with a Quaker—all sorts of drama.
Domestic Arrangements deals with Tatiana, nicknamed Rusty (for her long red mane of hair) who is just dealing with a lot. The boyfriend she’s having sex with, her meddling dad, her sister Deel who is jealous of Rusty’s sexual adventures, and oh yeah! Rusty made a movie! Where she appears semi-nude! The movie becomes a hit! Rusty gets on the cover of People! She auditions for the title role of a musical version of Lolita! Now I don’t know about you, but I sure as heck didn’t have problems like this back then. My problems were in the vein of whether Mr. MacArthur was going to pass me in Science, getting the all-important part of Miss Thornton in Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis, and a bad haircut I got in Berkeley. In fact, I would’ve liked Rusty’s problems. Except for the sex part. Sex is complicated any age, especially at fourteen.
I also had to remember that Domestic Arrangements was published in 1981, a very odd time to be a teenage girl in America. It was weird just to be a kid, but to be a teenage girl? Lordy, lordy. Brooke Shields was on television, pouting, saying, “You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” Thanks for sharing, Brooke! We had Diane Ladd running around with a French boy in A Little Romance, Kristy McNichol having sex with Matt Dillon in Little Darlings—no wonder Rusty looked around her and she found mixed messages about sex everywhere she went.
Yet she has a naïveté that makes you want her to hire a publicist. In one interview, she freely admits that her parents just bought her a diaphragm (that's where I put the book down and said “Thank God!”), and says she doesn’t have much in common with her character in the movie she is plugging. She also tells a reporter from People magazine about how her mother was a student in the class her father was teaching, and...oh yeah, he was married when they got together.
What I did love about Rusty though was how free she was. Rather than acting, she wants to be an obstetrician, or as she puts it, “a doctor who helps women with babies.” After a publicist has her hair done in cornrows a la Bo Derek, she gives the braids a chance, then realizes the braids aren’t working for her and takes them out. When she realized that her hair was adding to her misery of being suddenly famous, she has it cut off and colored. She stands up to her boyfriend where she tells him she wants sex to be a special part of their relationship, not a requirement. When she notices movie producers leering at her, she decides against an acting part. Like that bird on a wire, Rusty does her best to be free, and that’s a lesson that is timeless, no matter what the year.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries