BWW Reviews: Party Lines and Party Dresses – A Look at New Work from Julia Park Tracey
by Karen Biscopink
“I’m beginning to rebel. I crave adventures. I want to live. Not merely exist.”
So writes Doris Bailey, a fifteen-year-old diarist living in 1920s America. Editor Julia Park Tracey has compiled a portion of her great-aunt’s journals in her newest book, “I’ve Got Some Lovin’ To Do: The Diaries of a Roaring Twenties Teen.” Doris’s documentation of her teenage years does not, in terms of the above, go on to disappoint: rebellion, adventure, late-night rendezvous and borrowed (sometimes wrecked) vehicles. Tracey has painstakingly transcribed her ancestor’s passionate recountings from a series of diaries, and having access to such a blunt portrayal of Doris’s day-to-day is a valuable historical voyeurism.
In writing this review, I keep fighting the urge to use words like “honest” and “legitimate.” Of course honesty is at stake. We are, after all, granted viewership into the private thoughts of an intensely romantic young woman, living in a remarkable and (from my standpoint) relatively mysterious decade. Every experience, from taking late-night suitors’ telephone calls to navigating social mixers, is described with an ultimately contagious enthusiasm. It’s so redolent of my own journals from this period of life that I can’t help but feel a distinct kinship with the young woman, despite the fact that a century has very nearly transpired. Blunt and aggressively invested in detangling her identity, Doris’s voice is entirely familiar.
“I’m in love. But it’s one-sided and he doesn’t even know my name, so what difference does it make? I see him on the street car every morning. His name is Frank Norris. He’s a Secret Sorrow if there ever was one.”
It’s this overwhelming sense of passion that serves as the book’s greatest strength and biggest drawback. Tracking the names of numerous infatuations, trying to navigate the fleeting and fickle attractions that comprise the majority of Doris’s entries, can become monotonous at times. However, I feel this is a result of Tracey’s light editorial hand and again appreciate the stark reality with which the reader is presented. The diary has not been sensationalized to fit the criteria of linear, historical fiction, and to splice Doris’s account to this end would seem, somehow, a great disrespect.
According to Tracey, “I’ve Got Some Lovin’ to Do” is merely the first book in a larger project to be called The Doris Diaries. In fact, she’s been documenting some choice snippets (from both this book and those to come) on Twitter. In addition, Tracey has agreed to do an interview, providing a closer look into her experience and process, so check back soon for a deeper dive.