The Past Tense of Love

Several years ago, my mom went on an Elizabeth Cadell binge. She read all the ones she could find in the library system, and enjoyed them so much that she enlisted me to track them down online. I managed to find about thirty of them for her, mostly in hardcover, but I actually never read one myself until now.

the past tense of loveThe Past Tense of Love grabbed my attention out of all of them because it was a paperback (and therefore in the front row), a blue book amid white spines, and a duplicate being pulled for the sale pile anyway. My mom said it wasn’t one she particularly loved, but I’m okay with that; I’d rather not start with an author’s best lest nothing else quite measure up.

Kerry Cromer is little like her staid aunts and sister; she thrives in her London flat and demanding job as secretary to a grumpy businessman. Perhaps she has some of the wanderlust that caused her own mother to leave without a trace years ago. Kerry is all set to take a vacation with a man she is trying to decide if she loves when her boss sends her on a secretive but important errand to a remote village in France. There, a conceited artist, a beautiful woman, and an American family on a yacht may hold the keys to Kerry’s past and future.

The Past Tense of Love was a perfectly fine book. I wasn’t quite in love with either Kerry or Pierre, though their romance was fine enough. I also, like Kerry, wasn’t actually interested in knowing who her father was. The plot summary makes the book sound more suspenseful than it really is. There are humorous elements, and a wistful bit about a lovesick but forgetful old professor that I believe is mainly meant to show us Kerry’s compassionate side. It was definitely not a bad book, just not quite memorable either.

Elizabeth Cadell wrote almost sixty books in forty years; this is from about the middle of her career, but a time when she was cranking out two books a year. It makes sense, therefore, that it might not be one of her strongest entries. Now that I know what her books are generally like I can choose a more popular one for the next go-round.

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Published in: on December 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Masque of the Black Tulip

Can I admit that modern romances are a guilty pleasure I occasionally indulge? Most of the time I read them on online writing sites that I’m still a member of from way back in the day. My biggest problem with the “chick lit” genre is that the heroines aren’t always appealing, or that the first person perspective gets to whiny. After finishing The Masque of the Black Tulip, I can confirm that Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series really does have it all. Smart, flirty females who can trap both French spies and paramours, and look good in the process.

the masque of the black tulipWhile the Pink Carnation is continuing work in France, and Richard and his wife have begun their school for spies, Richard’s best friend Miles has just received news via the War Office that dangerous spy The Black Tulip is back on English soil. The trouble is, no one knows the spy’s identities or intentions, though recently-arrived Lord Vaughn certainly fits the dastardly stereotype. Richard’s younger sister Henrietta is determined to prove her worth to the organization, and sees no better way than to capture the spy herself. If Amy can do it, so can she. Of course, the couple’s latent attraction to each other might provide just enough distraction to be their downfall.

Ms. Willig writes the interactions between Miles and Hen perfectly. They are filled with witty repartee and fond longing at the same time. Though they get themselves into a fair number of scrapes, overall they have intelligence to survive and the grace to laugh about it afterwards. The book satisfies equally on all fronts: romance, suspense, and humor. I laughed aloud more than once, especially at Turnip Fitzhugh, who seems to have migrated from a P.G. Wodehouse novel.

Eloise’s modern day story is still brief compared to the historical narrative, but I was much more invested in it this time around. She came off as too much of an idiot in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Now, however, I dying to know if anything ever happens with her and Colin.

There are enough incidental characters planted that the series seems like it still has a long way to go (good thing I own the next three books). I also want to reread The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Love Story

Erich Segal’s novel/screenplay Love Story has recently been adapted to a musical, and is the first show next season at the theater I go to. Just as with The Thirty-Nine Steps, I feel obligated to read it first. [Did I ever mention what I thought of that? It’s different from the book, but hands down the funniest play I’ve ever seen.] The only thing I knew going in was the theme song, which is one of the few I could play on the organ at my grandparents’ house.

Oliver Barrett IV and Jennifer Cavilleri are two college students in Cambridge who come from very different backgrounds. Oliver is a wealthy legacy student at Harvard, a hockey star and shoe-in for Law School next year. Jenny is a poor music major at Radcliffe, the only daughter of an Italian immigrant. Oliver feels he is never good enough for his father, while Jenny and her dad are extremely close. Against all odds, the two meet and fall in love. Both have a somewhat sarcastic sense of humor , but beneath it they come to mean the world to each other. As they attempt to carve out a life together, they will have to make more sacrifices than they’ve ever dreamed of. [That’s a really bad summary. Basically if you like somewhat sappy love stories you will like this book, and if not you should skip it. It’s kind of The Notebook of the 1970s.]

This is far from the typical romance novel, and yet Oliver and Jenny come across as memorably as any great leading man and leading lady in classic literature. Their matter-of-fact approach to love reminded me a little of Holden Caufield, probably because this was written in 1970. The are no Austenesque declarations of passion, no angst-ridden longings, just two people who need each other and make each other better. Perhaps that everyday quality is what makes their romance more appealing.

The big tagline for both the book and the movie is a quote from Jenny after an argument they have, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Problem is, I don’t really agree with that. (Of course, I’m one of those people who chronically apologizes for everything). My personal feeling is that love (any kind) means you’ll forgive the person for whatever has happened and move on, no matter what, but it’s not healthy if there’s no apology or at least admittance that something wasn’t right.

I like to think that I’m past the days of bawling like a baby over Where the Red Fern Grows and Anne of Green Gables. Every time I read a sad book or see a sad movie I will myself to be strong and cynical and not have my emotions toyed with. I honestly thought I was going to make it through this without crying. When I reached the last few chapters, though, I was sobbing my heart out; whenever a character breaks down I lose it. The relationship struggles between Oliver and his father touched me just as much as the romance. I think I will need to take tissues with me to the theater.

To be honest, I’d rather be romantic and emotional rather than cynical and jaded. My friends always knew me as the girl who cried at movies. (They named a system after me for rating how sad and how violent movies were.) Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that I needed to grow out of this trait, perhaps the same part of me that rebelled at reading happily-ever-after stories. Lately, though, I’m coming to realize that I liked that person I was more that the person I sometimes am now. Being openly emotional was always sort of cathartic, and it’s okay to keep that.

Love Story is on the Guardian List (Love).

Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Notebook

The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and always will be. Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we’ve found each other. And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude for what will come.

I will always have a soft spot for The Notebook. It was the first adult book that I ever bought for myself, without even really realizing it, at a small booksale at a church fair. I tore through it and just fell in love with the story of Noah and Allie; I would go back to reread parts of it from time to time, and it remains one of my favorite romances. I think I read some of his other books as well (or maybe they were by James Patterson).

I was a total sap at heart back in the day, and loved the ideas of soulmates and childhood sweethearts and a fairytale happily-ever-after love that surmounted all obstacles. Now that I’m an adult myself I don’t really believe in any of that anymore. A good relationship is a combination of chemistry, respect, lots of work, and luck; there’s no destiny or Cupid involved, no guaranteed happy ending.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll get in the mood for an old-fashioned romance. For example, I pulled The Notebook off the shelf this week just to look up the passage above. Then I reread the ending, and the part where Allie reads Noah’s letters, and before I knew it I had pretty much reread the entire book (albeit somewhat out of order). It’s just that good.

Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Pink House

“‘Van,’ she began, still a trifle breathlessly, ‘you said two words to me. Do you remember?’

‘I’ve said a lot of words to you, Jocelyn; most of them foolish ones.’

‘These–were not–foolish,’ she murmured. ‘These were–very important words. They were–darling–and–wife.’

‘Jocelyn!’ he cried and would have gone to her, but she put out a frightened little hand to hold him back.

‘Would you mind lending me–not giving me, Van–oh, do say you understand you mustn’t give them to me!–those words for a little while?I can promise you,’ she assured him earnestly, ‘that I’ll return them to you just as good as ever–not damaged a bit–hardly even used.'”

I went to a new-to-me book sale earlier this month, and was pleasantly surprised at the number of older books present. I was able to find a couple Angela Thirkell novels, some older series books, a Frances Parkinson Keyes, a Grace Livingston Hill, and, last but not least, two books by Louise Platt Hauck. I read The Crystal Tree earlier this year and had been curious about her other works.

I needed a break from grading one night, and picked up The Pink House despite knowing the danger. Soon I was sucked in;  I made it halfway through, and finished the next evening after I couldn’t get it out of my thoughts. Everything about these older books just appeals to me! (This one even still has its original price tag from the Gimbel’s in Philadelphia.)

The Westmores had always been a wealthy and successful family, but after investments go badly and Roger Westmore commits suicide, Jocelyn and her mother Kitten suddenly find they must survive on their own. Rather than live with questioning relatives, Jocelyn decides to rent a rustic lakeside cottage for them to live in. She is unprepared for the challenges of running a household, especially one with few of the amenities they are accustomed to, but copes with the situation valiantly.

The cottage is part of the estate of young Van Cortland, who falls in love with Jocelyn at first sight. Her father’s death and the flight of her former fiancé Phil Eliot have set her resolutely against marriage. She accepts Van’s aid despite her pride, however, and the two become fast friends. She turns to him for help again when Phil shows up in town. Jocelyn fears that in moments of weakness she might give in to Phil’s advances, and convinces Van to agree to a fake engagement. Unfortunately, however, Phil doesn’t believe it is entirely real, and Van won’t admit it’s entirely fake. Jocelyn will eventually need to face both the past and the present, and learn a new lesson in courage from her parents.

I was expecting a typical fluffy romance, but the story has surprising depth as well, especially concerning Jocelyn’s idolization of her father and her subsequent anger at his suicide. Her mother also had much more to her than met the eye, and I was glad to see her come into her own by the end of the book. Louise Platt Hauck’s writing style appeals to me for some reason, even though others might think differently. For example, I love that throughout the book Jocelyn refers to the engagement as “borrowing” the word “darling” from Van, just as she is borrowing the furniture for the house.

Perhaps this is due to the depression mentality(this was written in 1933), or even elements from her own life, but Mrs. Hauck seems to have a fascination with setting up house in a cozy abode. The experience is less romanticized here, as Jocelyn and her mother must learn to cook and make do without a hot water heater:

“Rosy color foamed all about the little house. Kitten sent to Chicago for some pink frocks for Jocelyn: pink ginghams for morning wear, pink linens for afternoon, thin, lace-trimmed pink voiles for evening.

‘We mustn’t, Kitten,’ the girl remonstrated. ‘We mustn’t spend a cent we don’t actually have to. I’ve plenty of clothes–enough to last me a year or two out here.’

‘But these cost so little, sweetie,’ her mother pleaded. ‘The whole bill didn’t come to a hundred dollars.’

Jocelyn was silent. Once a hundred dollars was the price of a single frock, or a luncheon downtown with only a few guests, or of a birthday gift for a friend. Now it stood for other and vastly more important things: taxes and grocery bills and wood for the fireplace and the insurance she insisted on carrying on her own life.

She had set herself the task of learning to cook and care for the four rooms with the dogged tenacity with which she did most things. By the time June arrived she was ale to prepare and serve meals which did not differ too greatly in quality from the ones Kitten had eaten all her life. To be sure, there were frills of olives and salted nuts and ices and daintily frosted cakes which she felt bound to omit, but Kitten did not complain of the disappearance of them.”

Forgive me for quoting at length; I love the glimpse into the past these details provide! I can just picture the little pink house in my mind, and sympathize with Jocelyn’s sudden need for economy and domesticity. She handles it all very well, however.

I still have Family Matters to look forward to, though it seems a little different. In this case a newly married couple setting up home must deal with an affectionate extended family reluctant to let the bride cut the apron strings. After that? Well, Mrs. Hauck was apparently a very prolific writer, so I’m sure one or two of her other works will find their way to me!

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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