Places: Kinflicks

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1975

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1960’s, early 1970’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHullsport

Hullsport. KinflicksFictional town in east Tennessee, modeled on the real Kingsport, Tennessee, Lisa Alther’s hometown. Alther’s protagonist, Ginny Babcock, grows up in Hullsport, where the local chemical plant owned by her father, Major Babcock spews smoke as it manufactures munitions to support the Korean War effort and ships top secret materials to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

When Ginny was growing up in Hullsport, debutante balls, bouffant hairdos, southern drawls, and flag waving were as much a part of town life as kudzu vines, Harley Davidson motorcycles, moonshine liquor, and cockfights. There country music blared from radios while Ginny and her football-playing boyfriend, Joe Bob Sparks, made out after a Southern Baptist revival meeting; however, after she lost her virginity to a boy from the wrong social class, she was shipped off to a college up north.

In the novel’s present time, when Ginny returns to Hullsport and attends her mother, she sees the town as it now is–with new developments, new roads, and a new McDonalds. However, the town’s river is still polluted, the flag-waving routine for the band is still the same, the medical profession is just as impersonal as ever, her former friends have grown older and heavier, and she herself still does not fit in. She and the townspeople have little in common except their shared past; moreover, their memories of that past are very different.

Worthley College

Worthley College. New England college in which Ginny is accepted because she fills the Appalachian slot in the college’s quota system. (Alther models the fictional college on Wellesley College, near Boston, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.) At Worthley, Ginny is exposed through her teacher, Miss Head, to the intellectual pursuits of philosophy, literature, cellular biology, classical music, and foods totally unlike the hamburger and pizza of her former life. Here she has her first lesbian encounter, with Eddie Holzer from Roxbury, Massachusetts, who introduces her to protest movements, rock music, psychedelic mushrooms, and the politics of war, and persuades her eventually to drop out of college.

*Boston

*Boston. New England’s largest city, where Ginny discovers opera, symphonies, art museums, and the culture of the elite under the tutelage of Miss Head. Here she learns that Harvard and Princeton boys are no different from the boys in Tennessee. She sides at first with the life of the intellect, urged on by Miss Head, but later, swayed by Eddie and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, she realizes that she will choose a life involving people, not merely ideas. She rejects capitalism and part of her trust fund and moves into slum housing in Cambridge with Eddie, with whom she attends demonstrations with a group they call the “Family,” singing in bars, and exploring each other sexually, until their apartment is condemned and they move to a commune in Vermont.

Stark’s Bog

Stark’s Bog. Vermont town loosely based on the area around Hinesburg, Vermont, where Alther has lived for thirty years. This rural setting is where much of the rest of the flashbacks in the novel take place. Here with three other women, Ginny and Eddie become part of the back-to-the-land movement, “soybean people,” milking cows, chopping wood, and organizing the Free Farm, as they call their place. They experiment with organic gardening, conduct fertility rites, and gradually mingle with the local townspeople by joining the volunteer fire department, going to square dances, setting up Planned Parenthood meetings, and celebrating sisterhood.

Eventually, Ginny moves out of the commune, marries a local man, Ira Bliss, and becomes a Tupperware housewife with a baby daughter. However, her new lifestyle ends abruptly when she is discovered doing tantric yoga exercises with Will Hawk, a tattooed Vietnam deserter and Appalachian Trail hiker. When Ira discovers them in a compromising position, he forces Ginny to leave at gunpoint.

Sow’s Gap

Sow’s Gap. Virginia town, loosely based on Big Stone Gap, where Ginny’s grandparents began their married life and where her father left coal mining to move to Hullsport. Sow’s Gap is a place of feuding, coal mines, slag heaps, corn liquor, and hairpin curves.

*Montreal

*Montreal. Canadian city to which Will Hawk flees when he deserts from the army and to which Ginny and Will flee when they are expelled by Ira. With its cold winters and language battles, Montreal gives Ginny and Will a sense of culture shock.

Suggested ReadingsBraendlin, Bonnie Hoover. “New Directions in the Contemporary Bildungsroman: Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks.” Women and Literature 1 (1980): 160-171. Asserts that Alther’s book is a new type of maturation novel because it emphasizes the woman rather than the man. She says the book alternates between the picaresque and the confessional modes, the first being patriarchal and the second matriarchal, as Ginny struggles between freedom and security.Brown, Laurie L. “Interviews with Seven Contemporary Writers.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984.Ferguson, Mary Anne. “The Female Novel of Development and the Myth of Psyche.” Denver Quarterly 17 (Winter, 1983): 58-74. Discusses the myth of Psyche and Cupid in Kinflicks and works by Eudora Welty and Erica Jong. She discusses Ginny’s relationship with her mother as it parallels Ginny’s development as heroine.Ferguson, Mary Anne. “Lisa Alther: The Irony of Return?” Southern Quarterly 21 (Summer, 1983): 103-115. Ferguson discusses Ginny’s relationship with her mother, including Ginny’s attempt to imitate her mother by following her into death. She also focuses on Ginny’s rebellion against the South and her return to it.Hall, Joan Lord. “Symbiosis and Separation in Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks.” Arizona Quarterly 38 (Winter, 1982): 336-346. Hall examines Ginny’s behavior as symbolically related to her mother’s blood: As Mrs. Babcock’s blood cells turn upon themselves, Ginny wonders whether she is like a cell functioning in a larger organism. Hall asserts that Ginny can find freedom only when she becomes part of a larger community.Leonard, John. Review of Kinflicks, by Lisa Alther. The New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1976. Compares Alther to Doris Lessing. Discusses Kinflicks as a comic maturation novel, putting Ginny Babcock in company with Holden Caulfield, Augie March, and Huck Finn.Peel, Ellen. “Subject, Object, and the Alternation of First-and Third-Person Narration in Novels by Alther, Atwood and Drabble.” Critique (Summer, 1989): 107-122.
Categories: Places