Caitlan Flanagan’s elegant prose and exceptional grasp of vital detail make it easy to miss the single most important fact about what she writes — her absence of any insight about anything outside her own experience and her own head. In the New York Times, she wrote an op-ed about the movie Juno that has a mind-boggling misread of the movie’s conclusion.
The final scene of the movie shows Juno and her boyfriend returned to their carefree adolescence, the baby — safely in the hands of his rapturous and responsible new mother — all but forgotten.
On the contrary. The final scene is bittersweet. The screenplay notes their “ambiguous smiles” at each other. Everyone in the film is changed in unexpected ways as a result of the sexual encounter that begins the film, one which, as Paulie reminds her, was not the impulsive act of a bored teenager but a deliberate choice. And that conversation in particular and the film as a whole make clear that Juno fully recognizes the consequences of her choice for herself and for her child.
Flanagan’s review of a new book about Katie Couric appears in the current issue of “The Atlantic.” As usual, the first third of the piece is not about the book or about Katie Couric but about Flanagan herself and how she used to feel watching the pre-Couric “Today Show” when she was in college. As usual, when she does get to the topic she is supposed to be discussing whatever she has to say about Couric is more about her than it is about her subject. It would be one thing if she decided to be this generation’s Joyce Maynard, obsessive self-awareness redeemed by felicitious writing, provocative opinions, and entertaining candor. But her self-awareness does not extend to awareness of how limited her vision is. She cannot keep from extrapolating every thought and feeling to her entire generation or to women everywhere.
I was sorry to see, at the end of the op-ed, a note that Flanagan is working on a book about “the emotional lives of pubescent girls.” I hope she lets them speak for themselves instead of making her own emotional life the template for everyone else.