The 1970s in fact and fiction: books read

NO DIRECTION HOME: The American Family and the Fear of National Decline, 1968-1980 by Natasha Zaretsky argues that 1970s America saw the seismic shocks of the oil crisis, defeat in Vietnam and the loss of millions of good-playing blue-collar jobs as blows to the American family, not just the nation. Vietnam holding American prisoners of war, for example, deprived military families of husbands and fathers; the Arabs (or the oil companies) jacking up prices left families financially strapped, and so on. Even the Bicentennial devoted a lot of time to families as stressing roots and heritage played to minorities and activists who didn’t feel much like celebrating America.

Interpreting all this was another matter. Did losing the Vietnam War mean America had lost its military prowess or that we’d simply over-reached? Had OPEC made us the Arab nations’ play-toy or was the problem that Americans had become too greedy, consuming too much? A lot of the debate blamed women for whatever the problem was: women who didn’t want to give up family leadership when their husband came home, permissive moms whose spoiled kids became radical protesters, cold mothers who drove kids crazy, etc. Zaretsky concludes, however, that the sense of the decade as dysfunctional and despairing (as in Invisible Bridge) didn’t take hold until Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign portrayed the 1970s as the decade of The Family Besieged with himself as the solution. An interesting job.

VANISHING IN THE HAIGHT by Max Tomlinson is a 1978-set noir mystery in which a female ex-con turned PI goes to work for a San Francisco millionaire whose daughter wound up murdered a decade earlier, during the summer of love. Can the PI find the truth before the dying millionaire passes away? This is a solid mystery though I find the serial-killer POV chapters uninteresting, as I usually do. However I do like the period detail, from fashion to gas at the outrageous price of 65 cents a gallon.

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