The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, November 23, 2007, Books

The Hypocrisy of Disco: A Memoir

by Clane Hayward
Chronicle Books, 240 pp., $22.95

Disco doesn't have much to do with anything in Clane Hayward's memoir of her late-Seventies, peripatetic preteens, which were spent shuttling between a hippie mom, redneck dad, and anybody else with an open space – but not necessarily an open heart – in which Hayward could crash. The title comes from a drug-fueled monologue the girl overhears at a party ("the hypocrisy of disco, you know, because it's all totally ripped off from soul music but cleaned up so it won't scare whitey"), but it could easily be reappropriated to comment on the hypocrisies of her "Zen robot" mother, who preaches one love, one universe hokum while exhibiting a near-criminal indifference to her children. Hayward, who teaches middle school in Austin, opens her memoir with a slumber party in an abandoned school bus in Northern California, and it's a deceptively good time – what kid doesn't dream of this kind of free-reined upbringing? But as Hayward's mother, H'lane, uproots the family again and again, the sense of adventure leaks away, and things turn positively terrifying when H'lane and her loincloth-wearing boyfriend take Hayward to live off the land on Sugarloaf Mountain. Nothing to do and little to eat result in a complete absence of desire in Hayward: "I eat because I have to and I eat what I have and I have even stopped thinking about food. I've stopped thinking about anything."

There's a dreaminess to every place Hayward ends up – oftentimes she doesn't remember how she got there or the goodbyes – but there she is, in a trailer park, her father's beat-up house in New Mexico with no electricity, her grandmother's catalog-perfect home in Vegas. As if to combat that dreaminess, Hayward renders the functionings of each new household, landscape, weather pattern, with a specificity that occasionally toes tiresome. But even when the story loses steam – the last half feels unformed – it's saved, always, by Hayward's clear-eyed approximation of her 12-year-old voice. She isn't a sentimental writer, but she knows how to quietly devastate, as in an episode where an uncle's girlfriend washes Hayward's hair in the sink, and Hayward marvels that it's been months "since a woman's hands have smoothed my hair or rubbed my shoulders." Hayward's memoir ends abruptly – aggravatingly, even; an optimist would call The Hypocrisy of Disco a case for the resilience of children, but with no epilogue, no "we made it out okay in the end," it's at most an unsettling study in the carelessness of adults.

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