Last summer when I was doing research on the exhibition, Vivienne Westwood: 1980-1989, I came across a quote in Street Style: British Design in the '80s that was meant to illustrate how much better style was in the 1980s than it had been in the seventies. From Cyra McFadden's 1977 comic novel, The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County, the quote instead piqued my interest and sent me on a search to locate it. Considering that the 1970s are my favourite decade for pretty much anything, it seemed a must have, especially when you consider what was quoted:
"Right away, Kate spotted Carol and knew her Renaissance dress was all right - marginal, but all right. Carol was wearing Marie Antoinette milkmaid, but with her usual infallible chic, had embellished it with her trademark jewelry: an authentic squash blossom necklace, three free-form rings bought from a creative artisan at the Mill Valley Art Festival on her right hand, and her old high school charm bracelet updated with the addition of a tiny silver coke spoon."
With that my sole information on the book, I was ill expecting what arrived- a fully illustrated episodic novel about Kate and Harvey Holroyd, "desperate fighters in the struggle to stay hip and loose at the same time in Marin County, California - a welter of lentil loaves, enzymes, whip fantasies, natural fibres, TM, Zen jogging and vibes good and bad." Though I am not from California, and have never been to Marin, I find myself talking and doing many of the things that are good-naturedly poked fun of in this book, especially as the organic and healthy living movements have become more mainstream and less marginalized since its publication. The illustrations by Tom Cervenak (better known for his pychedelic late 60s posters) further enhance the vivid descriptions, particularly of the clothes, which leap off the page (and wishfully, into my closet). An ideal beach read, The Serial is divided into fifty-two short chapters that realistically dissect American bourgeois manners and relationships in the era that marked the beginning of the prominence and commodification of Eastern religions and health foods. I honestly can't say enough about how much I adore this book- below I have chosen a few quotes that seem to sum up how razor sharp McFadden's social commentary was.
"Now Rita lived out in Woodacre with her old man, some other congenial freaks and a kiln. Deeply involved in the human-potential movement, she had like mutated over the years through Gurdjieff, Silva Mind Control, actualism, analytical tracking, parapsychology, Human Life Styling, postural integration, the Fischer-Hoffman Process, hatha and raja yoga, integral massage, orgonomy, palmistry, Neo-Reichian bodywork and Feldenkrais functional integration. Currently she was commuting to Berkeley twice a week for "polarity balancing manipulation," which, she reported through her annual mimeographed Christmas letter, produces "good thinking.""
"Kate was having her hair cut at Shear Ecstasy, nervously watching Mr. Donald nip away at her bangs, when she saw Carol's back appear briefly in the mirror that ran the length of the room. She knew it was Carol's back because Carol was wearing her classic '74 Nik-Nak shirt, the one with the Art Deco garden party on it in muted shades of orange, lavender and puce. Nik-Nak had traded in Art Deco for M.C. Escher geometrics this season and Kate thought the new line was a little tacky. But Carol, whose sense of fashion was timeless, intuitively clung to her oldie-but-goodie. Carol believed in basic decadence."
"Even her macrame was going badly, and Kate had counted on it to earn her a right livelihood. Somehow she kept turning out lopsided plant hangers she couldn't unload at the flea market even when she threw in the coleus slips she'd started in Veg-All cans."
"She was glad she'd tucked her pants into her gaucho boots and worn her favorite Peruvian blouse. Now that ethnic chic was in, nothing looked tireder than a JAG denim wrap skirt."
"Martha nodded. "Just off the wall she comes on like a lightweight. I used to think she had a pretty dim bulb myself, but she's just fantastic in a crisis situation, and she's had some heavy-duty help. She's seeing a Life Goals Consultant at the Wellness Resource Center, and of course she's also working with Harvey's shrink. right now he thinks Harvey's mother laid this trip on him about how sex was dirty, and Harvey's been trying to rewrite the script.""
Illustrations by Tom Cervenak from Cyra McFadden's The Serial.