The 'Fudge' Report
For several generations of former adolescents, Judy Blume is the reason flashlights were invented. From the Fudge books to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret to Forever, Blume has expertly guided huddling, insomniac masses through the confusion of childhood and teenage hell into young adulthood.
One would think that, at 64 — 23 books and almost four decades into her career — Blume would be comfortable with her status as a coming-of-age nonpareil. Instead, the word icon sends the shy author, dressed in cargo pants and a T-shirt and looking 20 years younger than her age, into a fit of nervous giggles. ”Oh, no no no no,” she protests, slumping down in a wicker chair at her Massachusetts waterfront home. ”How could you think about it and still be a person?”
If fame causes the author discomfort, she should be prepared for a lot of squirming in the coming months: Blume’s latest addition to the Fudge series, Double Fudge, has just been published. It’s been 12 years since the last one, which means a whole new swarm of kids are about to be introduced to the long-suffering Peter and his eccentric younger brother, Fudge. ”This book will do very, very well among those who grew up reading her who are now having kids of their own,” says Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of the Books & Books store in Miami. ”Her voice is in tune with kids, and she’s been able to maintain that over many years.”
It’s been the one consistency in — and saving grace of — Blume’s life. Raised in New Jersey by her father, a dentist, and her homemaker mother, she married first husband John Blume in 1959 when she was 21. They settled in New Jersey, where she raised their two children (daughter Randy is now 41; Larry is 39), but living the life her mother had intended for her filled her with anxiety. ”I felt that everything was passing me by,” she says. So, she began writing children’s picture books when she was 27, despite having no idea what she was doing; after two years of writing children’s picture books (only one of which was published), she put herself on the map with the young adult novel Iggie’s House in 1970. She began churning out as many as three books a year, tackling such taboo subjects as masturbation and menstruation. Her marriage, however, was less successful and ended in 1975. ”It was very, very, very traumatic,” she says of the time. ”What I knew was how to be married.” Blume took another trip to the altar a year later, but that marriage lasted only three years; in 1987, she wed her current husband, former law professor George Cooper.
But while Blume feels she has found the love of her life (she actually blushes when she talks about Cooper), her newfound contentment has been less of a boon to her readers, who have found themselves having to wait as long as five years between her books (her last publishing effort was the best-selling adult novel Summer Sisters, in 1998). ”Happiness has ruined my career!” she jokes. ”All right, it hasn’t ruined it, but I don’t have the same need. I don’t have the same angst. And I think that good writing comes from that kind of angst.”
Nevertheless, her latest Fudge book actually came from a very happy place — her grandson Elliot, a fifth-grader and fan of the series. ”I adore him,” she says, practically cooing. And so it is on him that readers should pin their hopes: Blume says that Elliot has asked his grandmother to get back to work. ”Every time, I say, ‘Never again,”’ the author says, shaking her head. ”But everyone’s really happy I left the Fudge book open-ended.” Even, one suspects, Blume herself.