Then Again, Maybe I Won't: Close Your Eyes, And Think Of Jersey City

Illustration for article titled Then Again, Maybe I Won't: Close Your Eyes, And Think Of Jersey City

Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wrinkled look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer/reviewer/blogger Lizzie Skurnick re-reads Judy Blume's 1971 novel 'Then Again, Maybe I Won't', which helped many a young girl learn about hard-ons, wet dreams and the downsides to sudden wealth and suburban Long Island.


Who says March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb? That's a load of bull. All it's done this March is rain. I'm sick of it.

Thank god the phrase for "wet dream" is the same in England. I say this not out of any allegiance to Royalist nocturnal emissions, but because I'm using the English edition of this book, and have been thus saved a harsh repeat of my 7-year-old initial read: namely, not knowing what the hell Judy Blume was talking about.

In fact Judy Blume, at least for me, required an unholy amount of pre-Wikipedia diagram and explication. I still remember well — WELL — porting my instantly well-thumbed copy of... YES, WAIT FOR IT...Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret (you'll have to provide the clash of trumpets here yourself) over to my mother to ask her what a "period" was...

[your own memory here]

...and she fixed me with a beady look, picked up the book and looked at the back cover, then nicely provided me with a diagram of a sea-skate-esque uterus, including attendant ovaries and a path-of-egg line resembling those of the "Find Your Way Out" maze games I was fond of playing at the time. (This led, I know see, to an undue amount of anxiety until the actual cycle occurred.)


And it didn't end there. Other "Show, Don't tell"-inspired queries: Deenie ("Do I have scoliosis?"), Tiger Eyes ("What are 'Fat Man' and 'Little Boy'"?), Starring Sally J. Freedman, As Herself ("Who is 'Esther Williams'?"), Blubber ("What does 'Tu me manques beaucoup' mean, and can I have a French tutor?"), Iggie's House ("Judy put a black person in her book YAY!!!!"), It's Not The End of the World ("Are you When are you getting divorced?"), Forever (Actually, I was FINE on this one, except for the "hard" part, which had already presented a great difficulty in the book we are dealing with today).

Anyway, leave it to Judy Blume to make the story of a priapic boy [redun.-Ed] who requests a pair of binoculars to spy on his next-door neighbor heartwarming. (Unrelated: Michael Chabon did this with stories about bearing the offspring of a rapist and molesting a child in Werewolves in Their Youth, and I've always wondered if he set that as a goal. Blume, as we all know from Wifey, is just straight-up deviant.) Written in the years before being working-class was considered a virtue, Then Again, Maybe I Won't is the story of one Tony Miglione, Jersey City resident, lover of basketball, younger sibling of Ralph — who's a teacher and lives upstairs with his wife, Angie — and Vincent, who died in Vietnam. Son of Vic ("Pop"), Carmella ("Ma"); grandson of Grandma ("Grandma"), who does all the cooking and cannot speak, because she has no larynx, which doesn't creep Tony out because he loves her.


The "crisis" in the novel — Shoutout to Creative Writing Workshop, 1992! — occurs almost immediately, when Angie gets, insofar as one can, inadvertently pregnant. (I'm going to go out on a limb and assume, due to the presence of several Father Pisarros in the narrative, that she and Ralph are using the rhythm method.) Pop, heretofore a general contractor, also goes out on a limb and sells some electrical cartridge thingie to a businessman named J.W. Fullerbach, which immediately gives the family the means to move out of Jersey City to the leafy environs of Rosemont, Queens. (Literally a deus ex machina! Shoutout English 125a, 1991!) Before he knows it, Tony has been transplanted from playing basketball at the Y with characters named Big Joe and Little Joe to hanging out with his polite, shoplifting neighbor Joel, who has an inground pool, a hot older sister, and a mother who calls Tony's mother Carmella Carol because it's "easier."

On reread, I'm most struck by how Blume manages to make this novel of class neither cutesy nor polemical-but only about a very singular character's growth during a certain profoundly charged time. This character can be experienced so fully that the reader, I don't know, BURSTS INTO TEARS at the local coffee shop-having forgotten the primary peculiarity of even a happy childhood that Blume depicts so well: That for this brief window, one is subject, for the better or worse, to the machinations of almost every adult in one's life.


Meaning one might get yelled at for not putting the paper under the mat on one's daily route. Meaning one might lose said route and move to a new town next door to a rich kid who makes prank calls from his parents' bedroom, which has a circular bed on a pedestal, and this STRESSES ONE OUT. Meaning one's mother might insist on one's calling adults "sir", pick up lint from the new carpets constantly, and acquire a maid that usurps one's grandmother's role such that she secretes herself in her bedroom except to visit one's brother's grave. Meaning one's dad might buy a new car because one's neighbors notice the truck and ask if one is having work done on the house. One might have erections constantly and have to carry a raincoat or a stack of books at all times to conceal one's condition, and one might lie to one's parents to ask for binoculars for birdwatching, then use them to watch the older girl across the way undress. One might become an uncle, be forced to take piano liessons, decide everyone's a phony, go ahead and let one's friends get caught by a security card and sent to military school. Pretty much everything might STRESS ONE OUT so much that one might get terrible stomach pains out of anxiety and eventually wind up in the hospital, after which one's dad, cutting one a break, would prevent one's mother from imitating the neighbors and sending one to a military academy as well-and one might come into one's own enough (heh) to put the binoculars away.

OMIGOD I AM TIRED OF SAYING "ONE". But anyway, what can I say? Tony is one of the most wonderful pilgrims ever to progress through the YA landscape, even more poignant because — and men who read Jezebel, speak up — I *think* this is kind of an accurate depiction of how teenage boys actually think, right? Yes? Woe betide us, yea, verily, stuck in the sad, sad end times where the only woman allowed to write about teen erections is Caitlin Flanagan.


Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Lizzie Skurnick [The Old Hag]

Earlier: Were You A Judy Blume Enthusiast Or A Babysitters Club Nerd?

My Darling, My Hamburger: I Will Gladly Pay You Tomorrow For A D&C Today

All-Of-A-Kind Family: Where I Would Put Something Yiddish If I Thought You Goyishe Farshtinkiners Would Farshteyn

Island Of The Blue Dolphins: I'm A Cormorant And I Don't Care

Little House In The Big Woods: I Play With A Pig Bladder Like It's A Balloon

The Grounding Of Group Six: Have Fun At School, Kids, And Don't Forget To Die

Are You There Crazy Psychic Muse? It's Me, Lois Duncan




All I can remember of this story is not understanding it. This roundup makes me feel less bad about that.

Blubber however was, other than The Cat Ate my Gymsuit, the most moving book of my young-adulthood.