Autobiography of a more-than-ordinary life; The Education of an Ordinary Woman, by Lois Mark Stalvey. New York: Atheneum. 311 pp. $14.95.
It is always interesting to hear from women like Lois Mark Stalvey, who was bright enough to write ad copy for Gimbels at 18 and opened her own ad agency at 20. Later, she wrote for women's magazines and newspapers and produced two books while raising three children.
Now in her 50s, she reflects on a life that has been far from the ''ordinary'' tag she has hung on herself in the title of her autobiography.
She demonstrated an extraordinary amount of ambition in her career and had the good fortune to attract mentors, seed money, and people who fought to advance and utilize her talents. Today, she has embarked on a new career as a college professor without benefit of a college degree. That, too, is hardly ordinary.
And her extraordinary personal life has included two divorces, an abortion, and a suicidal depression which necessitated hospitalization and treatment.
All this is told from only one point of view--hers--and is embarrassingly self-serving, since she comes through as a ''heroine'' by her own definition.
And what a popular heroine. Men hover devotedly, usually more than one at any given time, and several propose marriage. How to choose? It would be nice but unrealistic to think this happens to most women.
Still, it is no small thing to find joy in life after so many ups and downs, and yet there will be many who will take great comfort from Ms. Stalvey's tale.
My quarrel is that the cliche-filled writing is thin, with the patina of the slick magazine fiction of the '60s covering any genuine dialogue and smothering real emotions.
But most of all, I quarrel with Ms. Stalvey's assertion that the ''limits on women are largely self-imposed'' and more could, if they would, emulate her success. This is the pompousness of the self-made woman who cannot glimpse the lives of truly ''ordinary'' women who have not been blessed with her ability or assertiveness.
Such women, struggling long hours in low-paid jobs and frequently raising children alone, have not always had her choices. For many, it is a lonely struggle against many kinds of discrimination--racial, sexual, age, or economic status.
Ordinary women survive all this and more, but they have too much humility to think anyone need know about it. That's what ordinariness means.
Ms. Stalvey has been lucky and plucky. Her pursuit of the good life is admirable. Her self-esteem ensures that her voice, once raised on behalf of the civil rights movement, will always be heard.
But her education has a long way to go. Perhaps when it is complete, she will have more respect for the women's movement, which she did not need but others do , and more compassion for her struggling sisters who need encouragement.