Territory of Men: A Memoir

Territory of Men: A Memoir

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by Joelle Fraser

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Born into the turmoil of mid-sixties San Francisco, the daughter of a flower child and a surfer, Joelle Fraser grew up with no bedtime, no boundaries, and no father. But “dads” she had in abundance, as her mother worked her way through boyfriends and husbands, caught between the traditional rules of her upbringing and the new freedoms of the “me…  See more details below


Born into the turmoil of mid-sixties San Francisco, the daughter of a flower child and a surfer, Joelle Fraser grew up with no bedtime, no boundaries, and no father. But “dads” she had in abundance, as her mother worked her way through boyfriends and husbands, caught between the traditional rules of her upbringing and the new freedoms of the “me generation” and women’s lib. Moving every few months, from houseboats and beach shacks to run-down apartments, Joelle came to learn that a woman’s life, free or not, is played out on men’s territory.

Set in northern California, Hawaii, and the small coastal towns of Oregon, Fraser’s engrossing memoir captures this centerless childhood in wonderfully vivid, frank writing, then goes on to show how a legacy like this affects a girl as she grows up. Pretty, blond, precociously aware of her own sexuality, Joelle was drawn to men early, eager to unlock their mysteries. Working in bars, prisons, and firing ranges, she liked to hang out where they congregated. To her the only worlds that counted were men’s worlds. Men held the power; they made life matter.

Fraser’s sharp vignettes of her intense relationships, brief, turbulent marriage, and itinerant life are haunting echoes of her early memories. In The Territory of Men, she brilliantly portrays the way a rootless childhood leads to a restless adulthood, and how a mother’s aimless life serves as a blueprint for her daughter.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

How does a young woman make her own way in a world seemingly dominated by men? That topic, and much more, is explored in this absorbing and compelling series of autobiographical vignettes by Joelle Fraser, the struggling daughter of a hippie mother whose "free" lifestyle included a multitude of boyfriends.
Publishers Weekly
As a child growing up in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest in the late 1960s and '70s, the author watched her mother move between relationships, leaving men before they could leave her, a pattern she acknowledges she later emulated. In her debut book, Fraser, a University of Iowa MFA graduate, looks at her personal history through a periscope, examining her life in terms of her relationships with men, starting and ending with her often absent, alcoholic father. At times moving, occasionally self-indulgent and ultimately uneven, Fraser's narrative covers some 30 years in chronological, vignette-like chapters. She writes poetically about her earliest years, successfully evoking a child's sense of wonder and curiosity about her world. The typical rites of passage she describes later envying other girls' clothing, trying to attract a boyfriend are less interesting and the language more clich d ("I thought of Hawaii, picturing the envy on my classmates' and teachers' faces when I told them the news. I'd leave the wet gloom of Portland, take off on a shiny white plane, and learn to surf and hula dance..."). Not surprisingly, Fraser's substitute fathers her mother's male companions, her own romantic and sexual partners, fellow grad students, men she teaches in prison don't fill the void left by her father. Toward the end, she turns more reflective and offers some fine passages about reconciling her idealized notion of her father (gentle) with the real man ("elusive" and self-destructive). Despite its virtues, Fraser's memoir won't garner favorable comparison to works by writers who have traversed similar territory. (July 23) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Fraser moved often, usually with her mother and one younger half-brother, but sometimes to and with her father and another younger half-brother. Often, one or both parents brought her to one or another Northern California community, but Oregon and Hawaii also figured into the changing scene. Fraser's mother frequently took new partners, often but not always marrying and subsequently divorcing; her father also married and remarried but spent more of his personal energy on alcohol consumption and writing than on domestic relations. Fraser tells the story of her kaleidoscopic home life with clear eyes and without bitterness. She seems certain that her parents each loved her and that the times of want or shame that she experienced in youth were simply among the influences that shaped her into adulthood; she doesn't waste words on "what if's" or "if onlies." Each of the brief essays in this memoir offers fine physical and psychological detail and there is little repetition as we go along with Joelle from early childhood memories through girlhood, adolescence, college, and her own series of attempted and failed partnerships with men. In addition to learning about the fragility of personal relationships, Joelle's family life taught her a devotion to reading and writing. Her own serves as a model of clarity and insight that is accessible to the reader as well as to the writer. Older teens, as well as Joelle's peers, will find this satisfying as well as provocative. KLIATT Codes: A-Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, Random House, 228p., Ages 17 to adult.
— Francisca Goldsmith
Kirkus Reviews
Fraser’s beautifully crafted debut recounts a tumultuous young life marked by alcoholic parents, divorce, a parade of subsequent partners for her mother, and an assortment of siblings and half-siblings. A MacDowell fellow and holder of an MFA from the University of Iowa, the author follows a familiar writing-program template: self-contained vignettes loaded with evocative detail, loosely connected either by character or chronology. She begins at the beginning, in 1966: “California Dreamin’ ” plays on the car radio as her mother, in labor and en route to a San Francisco hospital accompanied by a drunken husband and friends, continues the party that began hours (if not years) earlier. The slideshow continues with sojourns in Hawaii before her parents split up, then shifts scenes back to California, where her mother took a new lover. Six-year-old Joelle ingratiated herself by being obedient and quiet yet independent and creative, selling her paintings on her own in the local tourist market. Over the years, her mother’s lovers came and went; some were loving surrogate fathers, one sired a stepbrother before checking out, another made sexual advances to Joelle. Her mother severed that relationship instantly (“I realized that she had chosen me over him,” Fraser comments gratefully) and moved the family to Oregon. But other men and other alcoholic binges by Mom followed. From time to time, Fraser lived with Dad, a sweet, gentle, and talented writer who was also an alcoholic and a gambler, unable to hold down a job. Nevertheless, he offered his daughter solace and adventure in Hawaii; she moved there to finish high school and college. Fraser provides further tales about teaching in a prison, herown erratic loves, and reconciliation with her now-sober mother, simultaneously drawing readers into the carefully drawn settings and keeping them at an emotional distance. Ultimately unsatisfying, but a promising introduction to a writer worth keeping an eye on.
From the Publisher
“The only thing I want from Joelle Fraser is more—she is a gifted writer with an honest and searching soul.”
—Jennifer Lauck, author of Blackbird and Still Waters

“It’s the magic of this book that in writing about her experience with such honesty and poetry, Joelle Fraser forces you to face some truths of your own. Woman, know thyself: Read The Territory of Men, and bring a hankie.”
—Beverly Donofrio, author of Riding in Cars with Boys

“This book doesn’t pretend that any individual’s life is epic. This book is about the daily revelations, mortifications, and moral quandaries we all endure. Joelle is self-aware, but she’s often as puzzled by herself as by others. This book contains many more question marks than exclamation points, and that makes it tender, funny, and true.”
—Sherman Alexie, author of The Toughest Indian in the World

“Joelle Fraser has taken a life built on broken fragments and transformed it into a gleaming whole. The Territory of Men is one of those rare books: the kind that keeps you up too late, the kind whose pages warp from wear, the kind that, once read, you place on your shelf with a wistful smile, a tinge of regret, and a promise to read it again.”
—Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of Shutterbabe

“Joelle Fraser has crafted an elegant, sharp-eyed portrait of her girlhood in the Free Love era. She manages such a wry depiction of difficult times that the book itself becomes a testament to the resilience of the born storyteller. What a miracle that a girl who lived through so much trouble could grow up to write like this.”
—Lisa Michaels, author of Split: A Counterculture Childhood and Grand Ambition

“To build a memoir from the excruciating details of a harrowing childhood is a delicate and demanding art. To build one this extraordinary—shot through with humor, generosity, and a haunting forgiveness—is the work of an exceptional artist.”
—Michael Byers, author of The Coast of Good Intentions

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


Mother's Day, 1966

Watch us as we barrel across that bright bridge toward San Francisco, the gray waves of the ocean seething and crashing below. It's a warm May day, the windows are wide open, and my mother's black hair flies wildly around her sweating face.

We're late for the hospital, but traffic is light?and this is a party, after all, one that began in the morning and lasted all night and hasn't stopped for years. In the backseat, my father sits between two friends, smoking a cigarette, lips stained dark from gin and grape juice. He grins at my mother in front, tells her to hold on. He says wouldn't it be a great story if they had a baby on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin' " comes on the radio, and everyone sings, the words swept up by scarves of fog and spread over the sea. They're drunk, all of them, all but my mother, who leans back to ease the pain, belly swollen, legs braced because it's almost time and I'm pushing to get out.

That summer my mother's twenty-four and broke, living in a small flat in Sausalito with an infant, and my father's away somewhere trying to earn money. He's lost jobs, as a shoe salesman, as a ranger in Muir Woods?he was let go for not keeping the latrines clean enough. This last job, at a landscaping company, they fired him for pulling out the jasmine instead of the weeds. He's been away from home for weeks.

She reads my father's letter, which says he's lost his fourth job, and it's his fourth job in half a year. Life is much harder now with a baby, and she suspects that it will not ease up soon, or ever. She remembers those wonderful evenings after they were first married, living here in Sausalito, drinking Red Mountain wine at three dollars a gallon, feet dangling over the water as the fog lifted and the small boats floated by on the bay, with San Francisco's lights beyond. She thinks of the late nights at Contact, the art magazine they worked at in the city, and the concerts at the Fillmore. She has all the memories of the year before, in New York, when he worked at Look and she at Mademoiselle. In New York, the party began Wednesday and ended late Monday night: their home was an open invitation to visit anytime but Tuesday. They made jokes about their lifestyle, how it was like the title from Hemingway's book A Moveable Feast. Almost every night they drank, and in the morning woke to friends passed out on their floor.

They were both dreamers, but my mother had a practical side, and it was mostly this concern for the future and for a sense of security that came between them. When they argued, it was about money, which fell through the cracks of their lives, emptied on booze and parties and books. But they had loved each other while it was just the two of them, and that was all that really mattered.

Then she got pregnant with me and they headed back west. My mother tries not to think about the way her life has turned, how somewhere along the way the wheel jerked and took a hard left onto a road she didn't want to go down or wasn't ready for.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Joelle Fraser has an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa and is a MacDowell fellow. She has won numerous awards, including the prestigious San Francisco Foundation Award for Nonfiction. The Territory of Men is her first book. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Territory of Men 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book The Territory of Men is a memoir of Joelle Fraser¿s life. She starts from when she was born and ends when she is in her 30¿s. Fraser was very descriptive. She kept me reading her book by the way she described each person or object. I would read another one of her books if she has any or if I come across any. This book only took me a couple days to read. My favorite parts were when she was describing her young childhood and when she was in high school. The way she ended the book was very good. There was only one chapter of the book that I didn¿t like. With the way she described her childhood to when she was an adult, showed she had a very rough life. But that didn¿t stop her from what she wanted and loving everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was a good classification in a way. It classified all the different types of men a woman could date and how each of them have their own appeal. It was different than what I thought it would be but not in a bad way. It showed how the relationship between a mother and a daughter and the relationship between a father and a daughter can influence how the daughter lives her life and the different types of men she would date because of those relationships. It was about the life of a little girl growing up, times changing, and how parents react to different problems. It was also in a way, about the mother and how she lived her life, all the different men she dated and how she finally deals with that. I think the way the mother reacted to men and dealt with men influenced the daughter MAJORLY in the way that SHE dated men. It was a good book overall and I hope parents will read it so they know what kind of influence they really truly have on their kids.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Words cannot be put into what I feel about this book. It is so diffrent than anything I have ever read. This book is about a girl that grew up in the 60's and 70's. So she would be old enough to be my mother. Lots of diffrent things happen in that time period that she fell into. I can't really relate to what this girl is going through because I haven't done the things or gone through the things that she has gone through. I think the only thing that we have in common is that her mother has been divorced a number of times and remarried and my mother has been divorced and remarried. Even though this girl has lived a totaly diffrent life than me it seens as though I can relate to her. She is such a good writer that I can feel what she feel and know what she knows. It was as though I was there with her in the book. In some cases I don't understand the reason why she did the things she did, but I realize that how she grew up and the situations she grew up in, the reasons she does the things that she does was because it wasn't wrong or she was never taught that it was wrong. I thing that all girls should read this book if they get the chance to. It is the most interesting book I have ever read. It is great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to put down. Being the same age as the author but raised in a more traditional conservative two parent family it was intresting to sense how my childhood, teens years and young adulthood differed from hers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was going to wait till next week to write this review, but the book was just to good. Disappointed I was to have missed the book signing here in Ukiah. In my line of work, which is seasonal the summer days get shuffled like a deck of cards. You never know for sure what's coming up next. Good excuse? Actually I just forgot. It slipped my mind. I knew when I read the advertisement in the local paper a few weeks earlier that I needed to be there. Something said don't miss this. Being a new writer and author I felt that I need to read this writers stuff. The day after the signing I tried to buy a copy, but the bookstore here in Ukiah had sold out. I was glad for the Author and perturbed at the same time. After all I am a man and I wanted my cake now. I waited a week for my copy to come. Intrigued, I read some parts twice. Coming of age for most of us can be horrifying, intimidating, painful and awkward, but necessary. Five stars to Joelle for trying to pinpoint men. We are territorial. I hadn't realized how much so until I got my first dog at age forty-three. Women have an advantage though. You have those secret metting where women congregate and share their ideals, thoughts, feling and give advice to each other. I wish as men we could do that. My grandmother when I was in my teens, and the lessons I learned on the streets of San Francisco helped to raise me in the sixties. Years later I raised two daughters, and thank Cod they escaped much of my sphere of influence; surviving without too much damage. I'm rambling on because Joelle's book gets you to think, frown, twist, turn, smile, spit and laugh at all the good and bad that's in her book and in our own lives. Nostalgic is a word that comes to mind, but it's not enough of a word to pinpoint her book. Cleverly written, honestly written. It is a good book for all men and women to read if one has inkling. Joelle paints many pictures of life that you may or may not relate to. But for sure she gets into your mind, heart, and even your sole and sometimes under your skin, but in a good way. Thanks Joelle.