That Dangerous Teenage Crush: The Joyce Carol Oates Influence in "Because You're the First


I honestly cannot remember a time when books were not a part of my life.

So it was probably natural when I wrote my first book "Because You're the First" I wanted to write something around characters that were book lovers. I thought I would be fun to talk about some of the books, both old and new classics that were in the book.

The first book talked about in the novel isn't really a book. It's actually a short story. "Where Are you Going, Where Are you From? was written by one of the most prolific writers of the modern era, Joyce Carol Oates.

Joyce Carol Oates

Oates based this story on an actual event that occurred in Tucson in 1966. It was based on the tale of Charles Schmid, a 23 year old who cruised teen hangouts, picking up girls to ride in his gold convertible. Eventually, he murdered three of them. He was convicted of murder that same year. Oates connected Schmid's exploits to mythic legend and folk songs. The story was originally titled "Death and the Maiden," but Oates eventually concluded the title was too pompous, instead calling it "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

The writer also eventually dedicated the story to Bob Dylan, since during the writing of the story she had been listening to Dylan's song "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," which Joyce said struck her as "hauntingly elegiac," and similar to the tone in the story.

The story was made into a film in 1985 called "Smooth Talk" staring Laura Dern as Connie, and Treat Williams as Arnold Friend. While the actors gave fair performances, the movie itself is overly drawn out and boring. Only about the last 20 minutes reflect Oate's actual story line. It still occasionally plays on various cable networks.

Connie and Arnold with the gold jalopy in "Smooth Talk"

Played by Laura Dern and Treat Williams

The story is one of the most anthologized stories in college textbooks. Of course Oates doesn't come out and say Connie dies; in fact, you can interpret the story to mean many things, which I think is the reason so many literature teachers have their students read it. What does it really mean? If Connie doesn't really die physically, what happens?

People often interpret Connie's going away with Arnold to mean a death of her innocence instead of a literal death; making the story more of a coming of age piece. That is where the teenage Kassandra takes it in "Because You're the First." When she reads the story, she interprets the gold jalopy and the young man driving it as a means to an end; a way of getting out of her teenage self and growing up. Plus Arnold is the personification of everything that is cool; dress, car, and music among them, and what teen girl doesn't want a "cool" boyfriend?

Kassandra gets her wish in the "Because You're the First," finding her cool boyfriend in Cameron Martin. But like Connie, in the end Kassandra finds she may not be ready for what she gets into with a very lusty adolescent boy like Cameron, a common tale for many young girls, back 50 years ago, as well as now. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" chronicles the drama of growing up, as well as the risks. Every girl has a Cameron Martin at least one in her life, real of imagined. And once that happens, you're just never the same!!!

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