Joy Street

A little over a year ago I had never heard of Frances Parkinson Keyes. Then I spotted Roses in December at a library used book rack, and picked it up thinking it was a gothic romance. Instead, it was the autobiography of a senator’s wife who later became a writer. The kicker for me, however, was that she lived in New England and gave a fantastically detailed account of early twentieth century Boston. After reading this I walked down Beacon Street with different eyes, never having dreamed that the apartment buildings were originally huge single-family homes.

The fictional Joy Street takes place a little later, during WWII, but still in Boston. It tells the story of newlyweds Emily and Roger Field as they begin life together on Joy Street, by Beacon Hill. Emily comes from old family and old money, with her grandmother’s stubbornness, while Roger is a simple, hardworking lawyer. Despite the outward similarities to Joy in the Morning, however, the book couldn’t be any more different.

I loved getting to see Boston through these new but older eyes, even though the vision was sometimes flawed. One of the subplots of the book is the gradual acceptance of minority groups, as Emily eventually becomes close with Roger’s coworkers and friends Brian (Irish), Pelligrino (Italian), and David (Jewish). One of the things I love about Boston is the rich cultural heritage, especially of the first two groups. Even though Keyes disputes them, however, the stereotypes are still there. I also enjoyed the mention of a game where the “Red Sox hit their way to victory with the venerable Connie Mack at the head of the defeated opposition” (p 167). For those unfamiliar with baseball history, that would be the Philadelphia Athletics.

My favorite part, however, was most definitely Roger. We see the majority of the book from his perspective, and come to love both his endearing traits and his flaws, his hopes for success and his frustration at not being able to help more in the war effort. In fact, I found him much more likable than Emily, so that I was shocked by some events later in the book (though I had had vague feelings of apprehension leading up to it). I had squeezed several hours in on the plane back from Minneapolis, and was restless the entire afternoon until I surrendered and devoted the rest of the night to finishing the book. Though that could also have been a need to escape the frustrating basketball loss.

One quote in particular hit me particularly. Before Emily’s wedding her grandmother warns her that she needs her world to be set on fire, and it won’t happen from Roger.

“Of course I’m in love with Roger.” Emily did not hesitate to say it to herself or anyone else now. She said it proudly and confidently.

“My dear, if you had been, in the sense I mean it, you never would have voluntarily gone off to Kentucky and postponed your marriage for over a year, to prove your point. You’d have eloped, in the face of family opposition, within a week after Roger’s proposal of marriage. You may not care for the comparison, but falling in love is something like having labor pains. You can have ‘false pains’ and you can imagine you’re in love. But when the real labor pains begin, you know the difference right away; you don’t see how you could have ever thought you were suffering before.” (p 44)

I can see Mrs. Forbes’ point, and to me it’s a frightening thought that you may never know something isn’t love until all of a sudden you later run into someone else who sets you aflame. I sense that Emily is somewhat autobiographical; I hope that this wasn’t the case for Keyes and her husband. Henry was her first and only lover, and she was dragged off to Europe for a year before they were allowed to marry. They were together for thirty-five years, however, and she never remarried.

I suppose that what she is referring to, however, is passion; however much you  care for someone, which can come with closeness and time, chemistry either happens or doesn’t. Perhaps people are often so desparate for any intimacy that they will fool themselves, commit to someone they love as a person even if the passion isn’t present, especially if that person is passionate about them.

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Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 10:16 pm  Comments (2)  
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Joy in the Morning

I read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn years ago ( in middle school I generally looked for the longest books the library had since we were only allowed one a week). It was a story filled with hope, but also many trials which were equally impressive to a young girl (both the narrator and myself).

Joy in the Morning also has struggles, but this time around the hope was more prominent to me. The book describes the first two years of marriage for Annie and Carl, who together face many trials–poverty, in-laws, Carl’s juggling work and law school, pregnancy, and even just adjusting to living together.

What struck me most was the believability; though set in 1927, much of it would be similar if happening today. I can’t imagine being married at eighteen, and yet I know several girls I grew up with who have husbands and/or kids. Smith writes with the frank simplicity of a true storyteller, and the story is all the more endearing for it. Despite their struggles, something just bubbles inside Carl, and especially Annie, so that they are able to not just survive but smile. It is a combination of love, hope, dreams, promise–in essence, joy.

Annie, especially, has a talent for making friends and getting people to like her. She is impulsive but unselfish, and her sometimes unorthodox ways have a habit of inspiring confidence. She loves reading and writing, and though a high-school dropout not by choice she even secretly sits in on college English classes to improve her craft. That to me is dedication.

I know this is one I’ll want to come back to, and the worn cover on my copy suggests that someone else felt the same way.

This book is for the “Dusty” category in the 9 For ’09 Challenge, as well as the “Time of Day category for the What’s in a Name 2 Challenge.

Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 10:13 pm  Comments (6)  
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Twelve English Detective Stories

Twelve English Detective Stories, by Michael Cox, was quite a refreshing read–I never realize how much I miss mysteries until I pick one up again (or in this case, twelve). Apparently Oxford put out a series of this type, with other volumes centered around American and Female Detectives. I enjoyed the taste of what detecting trends were like around the turn of the century, when the emphasis was on deduction rather than character. Also, I was introduced to several new authors!

“The Adventures of the Stockbroker’s Clerk,” by A. Conan Doyle (In which Sherlock is as smart as the titular clerk is oblivious–really, even I could spot the solution here.)

“The Lenton Croft Robberies,” by Arthur Morrison (Martin Hewitt investigates said robberies.)

“The Green Stone God and the Stockbroker,” by Fergus Hume (An unsuspected murderer is brought to justice.)

“The Blue Sequin,” by R. Austin Freeman (John Thorndyke provides a solution that is not at all expected, yet at the same time makes you wonder why you hadn’t thought of it. This was the reason I found the book, as Melody at Redeeming Qualities praised him and the library had none of his novels.)

“The Strange Crime of John Boulnois,” by G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown packs on the guilt when confronting a murderer. I always find that priestly procedurals have a slightly more peaceful/philosophic tone than many other detective stories, for some reason.)

“Who Killed Charlie Winpole?” by Ernest Bramah (More of a chance to show off Max Carrados’ investigative skills than an actual crime, but made interesting because he is also blind.)

“The Poetical Policeman,” by Edgar Wallace (J. G. Reeder’s attention to detail in both circumstance and character gets the job done.)

“The Man With No Face,” by Dorothy L. Sayers (The open ending of this perhaps mystery leaves readers wondering whether the police force’s facts or Lord Peter Wimsey’s feelings provide the correct solution, but it works. Apparently I’ve been neglecting a great detective.)

“The Yellow Slugs,” by H. C. Bailey (Though well done, it left a bad taste in my mouth; I don’t like stories where children have been psychologically damaged. To his credit, though, Reggie Fortune does his best to help the kids recuperate.)

“The Unknown Peer,” by E.C. Bentley (Philip Trent solves a case of an incognito corpse.)

“Lesson in Anatomy,” by Michael Innes (John Appleby investigates a demonstration gone awry, but the premise is more intersting than the solution.)

“The Plan,” by Julian Symons (Black comedy as an actor plots to do his wife in.)

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 10:32 am  Comments (2)  
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