Like all good Southern writers, Margaret Sartor sets the scene in
her introduction to her memoir, MISS AMERICAN PIE: "Montgomery,
Louisiana, isn't a very small town, but it's small enough. In the
1970s, the divorce rate was nonexistent, church attendance was
roughly 100 percent, and the rules of proper behavior were
generally agreed upon, if often ignored....We purchased cigarettes
from vending machines, rode bikes without helmets, and thought seat
belts were for wimps...On the whole, I would say my hometown was
entirely typical of its time and place, more confused than
reactionary, a sort of stranglehold of befuddlement."
What follows are the diary entries of Sartor during her delicate,
angst-filled teen years from 1972 to 1977. Though her daily
accounts are sometimes brief ("August 12 --- I am 14 years old
today. Got perfume and money"), others highlight the political
climate at the time, through the unfiltered eyes of an innocent
young girl as yet unjaded by the world: "August 5th --- No one
knows what the school board is going to do. If they don't come up
with a desegregation plan, then schools can't open. A monkey at the
zoo bit two people from town."
Sartor's teenage self also struggles with boys, her own burgeoning
desires, her faith, her family, and her unruly hair. She grapples
with her conflicted feelings about love, speculates about who will
ask her to the school dance and wonders if she will ever be
satisfied with her life.
Some readers might find the short entries somewhat tedious
("November 20 --- My butt still hurts"), but Sartor bookends her
diary with an introduction and an epilogue filled with her insights
as an adult, which serves to place her childhood observations in
thoughtful context. She also updates her readers on the whereabouts
of her friends and family that figure heavily in her teenage diary,
which helps to form a more complete picture of a certain place and
time. Even readers who don't share her southern background will
relate to her voice and story.
MISS AMERICAN PIE can best be summed up by the Philip Larkin
epigraph that Sartor opens her memoir with: "That this is a real
girl in a real place, In every sense empirically true! Or is it
just the past?"
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 7, 2011