Good observations Ann. For the record, I was born in 1960 and three months (to the day) from today I will turn 61 years of age.
I remember those days well and agree wholeheartedly with your views. Matching the established ‘norm’ was a most important focus of the specific society in which I was raised. Where I was raised was a cookie cutter suburb on the East side of the greater Phoenix area before there were professional sports teams (well the SUNS may have existed by then, but if they did they gave game tickets away for free so the place didn’t seem so empty). My family went from struggling to get a new business up and running – to being somewhat affluent in our lower middleclass surroundings so memories are confused and contradictory, but for sure you put on your public face once outside the front door and everyone dressed alike and listened to the same music and had the same haircuts in the 60’s but in the 70’s cracks began to appear in our suburban utopia. Many families had older children who brought home ideas radical to the shelter we thought of as normal.
I am curious in which ways you found society more open back then? They surely accepted daytime drinking, and a man’s house was HIS castle. But we were discouraged to even think about options outside of our “American dream realized” reality. Teachers could only discuss communes or mind expanding experiences to demonstrate how they always lead to destruction. In fact, wholesome suburban Smithfield is pretty ideal compared to the inner city college setting of the previous book. Vic Harroway may be an immoral character delivering to the town’s collective vices – but he dresses well and can comport himself in a polite manner (although he never does in the book). Of course Smithfield would prefer him to the college radicals in their ratty clothes from The Godwulf Manuscript.
The superficial construct you mention Marge Bartlett viewing the world through is kind of remarkable. Who know what she was picturing, but learning Kevin is being kept in a nice clean environment rather than a dungeon is all it takes to satisfy her. (It might not ever occur to Marge that Kevin was not old enough to give consent and that a sexual predator was using him because he was well dressed, attractive, and clean. But she also surely saw Kevin as a possession, as chattel that belonged to her husband and herself.
I believe the whole point of the book is to accurately depict Parker’s own mother whom he had very complex feelings about. It seems Parker’s constant (in later books) reference to the Romantic age gives us insight into a part of the pain this book was written to address. The mother is attractive (but not as attractive as she believes – in chapter one she is proud of her very thin legs but Spenser thinks they are too thin) but she is not virtuous. She drinks too much and is a flirt with all men and according to Dolly goes beyond that on at least some occasion. Her friends admire her sense of style but she overplays her sexuality and it becomes a character flaw rather than an attribute. But all that to say that you are correct – that was just the time in which the story was set, but it was also just Marge Bartlett being her self-absorbed self. It seems like toward the end of the book he gave Roger and Margery a begrudging respect for what they were able deliver to the situation which was (eventually) a love that was self sacrificial. Up until them they only demonstrated a love that was - - well not conditional, but just a by-product of their own lives. In later books Spenser was cherished by his caregivers (**) but Kevin (and presumably Parker) felt like a tolerated accident of Marge and Rog’s marriage.
Taking this further, I believe Spenser is an idealized version of manhood; a two fisted man of action who doesn’t take shit off anyone, but also a poet with knowledge of the world, wisdom, and compassion. And I believe Parker wishes his women to all be as ideal as Spenser is. Like Susan Silverman, beautiful, wise, adventurous and capable – but with a respectable morality that informs all other aspects of her being. Parker shows quite a bit of tolerance for all human differences, but he is never particularly kind to mothers in my observations.
So much for keeping my yap shut. Okay, NOW I will remain silent and let others speak.