Maiden charts the riotous adventures of a thirty-year-old retro-virgin inrhinestones as she battles the flesh markets of 1970's southern California.A female Don Quixote, this brave and eccentric heroine plunges forth ina mythic quest for her Dream Man of chivalry. A monstrous yet lovableromantic, Fortune Dundy is one of the great heroines in American fiction.
About the Author
A playwright and a screenwriter, Cynthia Buchanan has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many distinguished literary quarterlies. She is currently writing another novel,Scarlet Men, and lives with her husband in Texas.
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Read an Excerpt
She was a virgin and her virginity had burrowed in. So she was a little crazed, a little abstract . . . looked for symbols, answers, messages everywhere. And anxious, she knew such anxiety. It may be that all virgins feel this. Her virginity and her anxiety made her a daydreamer, a planner, a struggler, too gay, too earnest. Would life forget about her? Overlook her? Pass her by? Misdial? Anxiety became a life style.
She lived in an envelope. Sometimes she had trouble noticing things other people did. At other times she saw only too well. One thing she noticed was herself, in light of her own daydreams. These were not airy, sentimental hallucinations, but deep, mournful pageants in her bloodstream. She made a fetish of herself. Her personality grew more baroque, surprised her at every turn. Yet she continued to be her own friend. She consulted herself, admired her own opinions, asked advice of her own wisdom. She had a native integrity,,, a sense of self, which protected her. But she thought too often to play the grande dame on the strength of it. While people went on not noticing her. To the point of overkill. And she continued lusting for their approval, their esteem, their warmth.
At thirty, the idea of sex had such a grip on her that she tried to avoid, totally, thinking about sex. It was a void in her reality and her curiosity minced around it-so high you cannot get over it, so low you cannot get under it. This void obsessed her but she denied her obsession and her curiosity. On the other hand, it seemed she was somehow always hunkering around the spoor of this torrid, nameless chimera. She followed it all in raw movies and magazines . . . in parks, once, andonce on a beach she bad spied on a couple. But it was still as remote, as irrelevant as Communism or cancer.
She admitted one thing to herself, however: she was looking for a man. She sure was looking for some man. Yet she always looked in private, so secretly that she nearly hid her desperate search from herself altogether.
She worked hard on her image. She was convinced it served her well. Her airs drew on the cinema, on the 1950's on Loretta Young, on Ann Blyth, on the mannered billowing, too, from fictionBlanche Dubois, jean Brodie. She had no idea how false she was.
The extravagant daydreams possessed her, she went soaring off on them. Clothes possessed her. Her wardrobe came from a mail-order catalogue, Frederick's of Hollywood . . . tufts, spangles, synthetic animal skins. Clothes spoke to her; inanimate things often did. She might be walking through a department store. A dressalways one with a rhinestone geegaw or something that fluttered-would cry out, Mel Mel Buy me! She wore the clothes, thinking herself distinct and magic. Meanwhile, her affectations, her rouged grimaces . . . these were misread by people everywhere. (But when she got to Los Angeles, her peacock behavior and arch clothing helped her fade like a chameleon into the cityscape along Sunset Strip.)
Language haunted her. The advertised word . . . the you" in advertising, the impossible "you" spoke to her. It was part of the summons, part of the superstition that seduced her daily. Human experience and earthly lessons glanced off her like a defracted ray. Yet inanimate objects held secrets. In an employment office a year ago, an ad, "California," bad been part of the summons. There was superstition in everything.
It was all there, the truth. It was there in the hints about charm, from booklets. (One of the maxims: Be Yourself! Then she found she was often punished for this.) In the raw belief . . . the voodoo of her personality.
She moved perpetually in this gossamer sac of musing and advertising. She was waiting for the summons, the tap on the shoulder, the visitation, the different drums. When people spoke to her, she listened for all these, straining for the drums. The speaker might be part of the design watching her, approving, about to approve. . . .
A man, impossibly smitten, an individual so love-sick he can scarcely walk, stumbles toward her. His arms are outstretched. In his hands, an amphora; in this vase is love. He says: Fortune Dundy, where have you been all my life? He has come to salvage and endorse her. Everyone always knew she bad it in her; what she called "a certain subterranean something." She had nothing upon which she based all this except autosuggestion.
The gleam of the summons was all around her. In the disclosures of daydreams. In the stares of strangers . . . all potential truthmongers. Hope lay heavily within her, corroding. Then it would give way and doubt came around. And again, hoping. Such a pinwheel of alternating hope and doubt kept her slightly beyond presence of mind. It made her happy and addled in the daytime hours. She was waiting. The intensity of this was awful. The weight of her atrophying sensuality grew. In the dark in her bed she tussled with faith and desperation. She remembered how she was then, And her maidenhood was seen floating like a kite high above a topography that seemed real, that seemed important to other people. She knew she was . . . gauche, denied it, contended with it. And lying there awake in bed, the pleasant muddle of daytime hours would then leave her.
jobs! The past! Helter-skelter stints that left her panting like a rabbit. Dreaming and waiting for buses, watching, forgetting . . . Finesse in the world of business: this was one of her ideas. To be a crackerjack, glib sort of person. With sparkle. Sparkle was marketable. Employers knew this! But a person bad to wait and watch and, most of all, improve. She studied the hidden secrets in the backs of magazines, panting over the promises. And always she sensed the love-struck man. He read over her shoulder. He neither breathed nor moved; be just skimmed the print.
What People are Saying About This
I loved Maiden so much I can't even do it justice! All generations�will find Maiden more universal today than ever. An American classic, it's wonderful!
(Lily Tomlin, 1998)