By Nancy Pearl, Guest Blogger
Well, the fifth season of Mad Men has come and gone, and we can only hope that the sixth will soon arrive with its tidings (good or ill) of—Spoiler Alert!—Don and Megan’s marriage, Peggy’s life at her new firm, and Joan’s firm hand on the tiller of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Meanwhile, how are we going to get our 1960s fix?
So glad you asked, because here are some terrific novels that are perfect choices for fans of the phenomenally popular AMC series. My first suggestion is the fourth Book Lust Rediscovery, Elizabeth Savage’s The Last Night at the Ritz. Published in 1973 and set in the late 1960s, it’s both intensely of its time and also, in important ways, absolutely timeless. The action of the novel takes place over the course of one day, as four old friends meet at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston to drink the afternoon away. This is a novel about love and friendship, and—importantly—the rapidly changing role of women in society that was heralded in the 1960s. The writing is as fizzy as good Champagne.
If you’re interested in the iconic novel of the women’s movement, don’t miss The Women’s Room by Marilyn French (published in 1977), which describes the lives of women who gave up college and career in the 1950s, buying into the marriage and happily-ever-after fairy tale so prevalent then, who now find themselves divorced and struggling in the 1970s.
If you like novels that combine irony and a plot that’s a bit over-the-top, try Anne Roiphe’s Up the Sandbox. First published in 1970, it’s the story of a bored housewife whose fantasy life consumes her days. You can only appreciate how brilliant the title is after you finish reading it.
If you enjoy beautiful writing and a main character that leaps from the page into your life, don’t miss Gail Godwin’s The Odd Woman, which came out in 1974 (and was a finalist for that year’s National Book Award). It’s the story of Jane Clifford, college professor and unmarried woman, as she negotiates her way through her professional and personal lives.
And lastly, if you’d like a contemporary take on women who are the same age as those in French’s The Women’s Room, one of my favorite novels of the last decade is Kate Walbert’s 2004 novel Our Kind; it limns the lives of a group of upper-class women who married in the early 1950s, raised children, divorced in the latish 1970s and are now, in the 1990s, soldiering their way through illness and the indignities of growing old.