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Mon June 16, 2008
Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love
These memoirs are sociology, anthropology, like Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa, or travel narratives of distant and exotic places. Except that, of course, the time is now, the place is here, and the mysterious creatures speaking and under discussion are American women, friendly and intelligent and utterly un-understood by the mass of American males.
By Don Noble
Cathy Day, of Peru, Indiana, finished her MFA in fiction writing here at UA, for a few years moved from one college teaching job to another, and in 2004 published a volume of linked stories, The Circus in Winter, based on the off-season life of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. I expected her next book to be a novel and was a little surprised to find myself reading the memoir of 37-year-old assistant professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.
What could have brought on this detour?
Cathy Day is an attractive, intelligent, successful, financially solvent young woman who enjoys writing, teaching, reading, talking, ideas. But she is also a down-to-earth person who is close to her working-class family, enjoys beer, and says, "I'll admit it: I like a guy who drives a big truck." But most of all, Cathy Day loves football. She is, like many Hoosiers, a basketball fan, but Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are her main passion. And Manning and the Colts, as this book was being written, had yet to win a Superbowl. They had come heartbreakingly close, often.
At 37, Day was still single and no longer wanted to be. Her seven-year relationship with the man she calls Alex had collapsed, and she was alone. Day ruminates and realizes: "NFL quarterbacks and American women have a lot in common: until they get that ring on their finger, they're considered failures."
One might think that Day was ideally situated to find a man easily and wed. One would be wrong.
Statistically, it seems that ship had sailed. She says all the "good" men were married or "drove Miatas." And admiring men in big trucks is useless if those same men are afraid of you. Day quotes British researchers who found that high IQs increase men's chances of marriage but decrease women's. For men, each 16-point increase helps their chances by 35 percent, whereas for women each 16-point increase reduces their chances by 40 percent.
Instead of being ideally placed for access to the blue-collar world and the world of professionals, Day finds herself falling between stools. Blue-collar men are intimidated; white-collar men are taken. How did this happen? In therapy, Day comes to realize that, like many young American women, as a teen and twenty-something she had disdained the housewife and mother role and made herself a different "promise." Where other girls promised themselves they would be married with children by thirty-something, Day promised herself she would have a book published. And she does. Promise kept. Now what?
This readable and honest memoir is organized around the Colts' 2006 season. Week by week, the Colts work toward the Superbowl. Day works toward a solid relationship. She turns, finally, to the internet and some adventures with dating services. These may work for some, but the ones in Pittsburgh seem to range from the merely useless to the actually corrupt and exploitative.
Cathy Day dates; the Colts struggle. We cheer her and Peyton Manning on. The Colts finally win their Superbowl. Manning gets his ring. Cathy Day is still single, but not in despair. She sums up her "season" as a learning experience, especially about herself, and faces the future optimistically.
Over time I have read a great many memoirs by women. It is, so to speak, my job. These books are not written for men, but male readers may still find illumination. To most American men, American women are, to quote Eugene Walter, a Byzantine riddle. These memoirs are sociology, anthropology, like Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa, or travel narratives of distant and exotic places. Except that, of course, the time is now, the place is here, and the mysterious creatures speaking and under discussion are American women, friendly and intelligent and utterly un-understood by the mass of American males.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.