Obituary: Barbara Raskin

DOUBT MUST be cast upon the notion of a global village when it turns out that copies of Barbara Raskin's 1987 best-selling novel Hot Flashes have gone to ground. Out of print here and in the United States, and apparently ditched by much of the public-library system, Hot Flashes none-the-less remains well worth the hunt.

The menopausal symptom in its title also refers to its characters' sudden, recurrent memories of several decades:

More and more frequently nowadays, my hot flashes have begun to feel like urgent communiques from the interior of a vast, dark continent - fast-breaking news items from my heart of darkness. Sometimes hot flashes trigger sudden insights into previously obscure experiences. Other times, in reverse fashion, a rush of revelations will release the heat like thunder after a flash of lightning. Either way, I have come to trust the wired insights that hot flashes produce.

All this is borne in upon the group of middle-aged female friends further with the sudden death of one of them, Sukie - which is now all the more poignant, for Raskin herself was not old when she died from cancer. It sounds a quintessentially self-referential American product but is is done with a bravura which does not eschew vulgarity (and references to The Big Chill); and, at times, it well-nigh guys those novels whose preoccupation is, well, guys - whose current, lamented absence never blinds these women to sedulous recollection of their shortcomings.

This narrator is Diana Sargeant, a professor of anthropology at Columbia, and the novel moves at a pell-mall rate that is not hindered by too many asides, something which also characterises the journal left by the dead woman and, quite probably, the unpublished novel which her ex-husband, certain that he is traduced therein, sweats to retrieve from the publisher. The style is catching. It all makes for an uncommonly fervid few days before the funeral and the more conventional eulogies one hot Washington summer.

Married in the Fifties, childbearing in the Sixties, divorced in the Seventies and only finding themselves in the Eighties, Diana's friends cannot help but feel they were born five years too early, but, hey, what the hell, it doesn't matter: "we are all old enough now to appreciate Impressionism once again. This reversal occurred about the same time we rediscovered an affection for African violets."

Barbara Raskin has an eye for pretension and the contemporary scene, as in Sukie's collections of books: "the only catalogue system she ever used was gossip. Pure unadulterated - and adulterated - gossip. See how she's got The Mandarins in between Nausea and A Walk On The Wild Side?" And, as Sukie notes in the journal, "I think it a very peculiar historical period if women carry newspaper photos of their lovers instead of snapshots."

It is fair to say that there is much of Barbara Raskin herself in the novel, and she was able to draw upon her political experience for her next one, Washington-set and punningly titled Current Affairs (1990).

She was born Barbara Bellman in Minneapolis, sold her first story at the age of 12 to Seventeen magazine, and after graduating from the University of Minnesota, went to Chicago to study for a masters degree - an intellectual odyssey funded by part-time work as a stewardess for Delta Airlines (it is surely not mere reading of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying that inspired her the notion of flying imagery when a couple find themselves unsatisfactorily bedbound).

In the late Fifties she married Marcus Raskin, who became part of the JFK administration at the Institute for Policy Studies. She herself taught at Georgetown University in Washington, wrote Senate speeches and diversified into journalism, but she and her husband's lives underwent a sea-change with the Vietnam War, to which they were opposed. Active in the protest movement, Marcus Raskin was one of those, with, among others, Benjamin Spock and Mitchell Goodman, who were tried for conspiracy as the "Boston Five".

There was an Alice in Wonderland-like quality to the proceedings - not least because the attorney who was defending the five on this weird charge of conspiracy found that the first thing he had to do was to introduce them to one another. The paranoid attitude of a government which had brought the shabby trial for "conspiracy" was on display during the following weeks in a courtroom under the 85-year-old, somewhat deaf judge, Francis Ford.

As Jessica Mitford noted in her account of the trial, the very notion of conspiracy is absurd: "one can visualise a vast Bruegheleseque canvas peopled with those who have in varying degrees aided and abetted the conspiracy". In Mitford's eyes, Ford, seated in a castor-wheeled swivel chair, resembled "a very old, very cross toddler manoeuvering about in his stroller".

Under Ford's notorious direction, the jury, which had been well-nigh fixed, brought in verdicts of guilty upon all but Raskin; two-year gaol sentences were handed out, duly overturned but with the proviso that some could be re-tried. Naturally, they were not, for the case had already been a catalyst to protest but, as another defendant, Michael Ferber, said, "there are thousands of unknown and unsung in the courts and prisons".

This experience of what America could do to its inhabitants, as well as her break with Marcus Raskin, galvanised Barbara Raskin's belated career as a novelist, with three novels - none published here - before the success of Hot Flashes. One hopes that next year's movie of the book will bring her work back into circulation, for, it is an entertaining anticipation of Chrissie Hynde's recent assertion that "fifty is the new thirty".

C

Barbara Bellman, novelist and journalist: born Minneapolis, Minnesota 1936; married 1957 Marcus Raskin (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1980), 1984 Anatole Shub (marriage dissolved); died Baltimore, Maryland 23 July 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003