I have been an appeaser at times in my life (although some of my closest peeps might right now frown in disbelief); declining to proceed; acceding to the louder, maybe more threatening, voice; trying to keep the ground stable and preserve the party’s peace. But even as I was trying gracefully to forgo my deepest wishes, I fiercely admired those who determined just exactly what they wanted and plunged ahead in pursuit.
That’s one of the things–and that’s in addition to her lyrical writing–that I admire about Laura Z Hobson; that’s why I was so excited to read Laura Z.
Imagine: the well-heeled late 1930’s and early 1940’s—with people so well-behaved, on the surface, anyway. A glamorous woman with a lucrative career in advertising and a couple of failed relationships, Hobson decides she doesn’t want to give up her dream of parenting. She does her research, and she finds an adoption agency in the Midwest that looks like it might extend some hope to a single woman wishing to adopt.
She goes there, and she charms them. Her first child, Mike, is adopted.
I suspect that Laura Z’s charm was formidable. She got away with a lot, and she gathered firm supporters along the way.
Her second son, Christopher, was also adopted,–adopted AND biological. When Hobson realized that she was finally, miraculously, pregnant as a result of a brief affair that ran its course, she made fast, firm plans. She spent the last three months of her pregnancy in a tiny apartment, hidden in New York City, leaving for her doctor’s appointments early in the mornings (her doctor’s doorman, even, was in on the secret, and he would guard her car from patrolling police officers should she have to double park to run in for her checkup) before other patients would arrive. She shopped behind dark glasses. She left her son Mike with his devoted nanny, Rose, to celebrate his birthday and Christmas by themselves.
Then she delivered her baby son under an assumed name, gave him into the care of an agency for several weeks, and went to court to adopt him.
“Committing fraud on the legal system???” says my shocked attorney husband, but the judges and the lawyer seemed to know the real skinny and collude in circumventing their society’s rules about birth and wedlock.
What a story; what a plot! Holy cow.
Laura Z went on to write Gentlemen’s Agreement; the conception and creation of the novel, the buried anti-Antisemitism she encountered in its ‘birthing,’ and her ultimate triumph, shape the last part of her autobiography. Before that, she walks us through her unconventional childhood with socialist– but NOT communist–Russian emigrant parents, a twin sister who was very, very different than she, a house built backwards to save on architect’s fees, and brothers so far ahead in age they almost seemed part of a different family. She lived many of the events I delighted in reading about in First Papers, taking nine Regents in the span of four days to earn a college scholarship, and bucking the family tide, which wanted to put her in a teacher’s ed program.
She DID go to college. She DID become wealthy. She DID achieve a glamorous lifestyle in a surprising, unorthodox way.
Some of that unorthodox behavior shocks my middle class heart. Hobson writes about leaving little Mike, and later, little Mike and little Chris, for long, long stretches. They were in the care of a loving and competent person, but it still hurts my mother’s middle class sense of propriety to picture her putting the boys on a train to the East Coast and then spinning around to pursue a Hollywood script-writing career.
She made it all work, though, she reports, as she brings us to the surprise triumph of Gentleman’s Agreement–well, she tells us that’s what she did, and she is a wonderful teller of tales. I have to research and see if she ever wrote the second half of her story, wrote about the years during which she fictionalized Chris’s secret birth and then wrote also about her realization, as he aged, that her son was a homosexual in a world not too terribly friendly to gay folks.
She never denied her Jewish, agnostic, Socialist roots; she never let her roots or society’s bias against them–or anything else–deter her from what she pursued: motherhood, a compelling story, a lifestyle that defied convention. Sometimes I’m a little shocked, sometimes a little puzzled, and sometimes I want to cheer along with her, but always, in reading Laura Z, I am compelled and entertained.