Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Good Wife - 1999

Serena Lightfoot is having a pretty crummy 26th birthday. Her self-proclaimed invalid father could care less, her older brother Henry probably doesn't even remember it, likewise younger brother Matthew. Gregory, her unromantic, stingy boyfriend, doesn't even send a card. Since his stand on birthdays is that they are 'scandalously overpriced' he doesn't bother sending anything else. Time to climb a hill.

Serena had no idea that she would
meet her destiny on that hilltop.
A handsome stranger is sitting on her rock. The two strike up an instant friendship...and then Serena has to return wait on her vile father hand and foot.
The handsome stranger (Mr. Ivo van Doelen, 37) goes back to his friends home and questions them about the untidy girl with the shabby clothes...they know just who he's talking about...the daughter of the horridest old man Mrs. Bowring has ever met.
A few minutes chatting with a pleasant stranger have given Serena a little glimpse of what life could be like...and enough gumption to request a holiday.  Holiday? Yeah, a request for time off for good behavior.
Older brother Henry: What do you need a holiday for! All you have to do is wait on Father hand and foot, clean the house and cook and grocery have plenty of leisure.

Mrs. Lightfoot extracts a heavy promise from Serena. It
was really the painkillers talking.

Younger brother Matthew: What he said.
Gregory the Not Quite Fiancee: What would be the point?
Vile Father: (Sends for the family solicitor and disinherits her).
Her family and friends are the sort that give patriarchy a bad name.
Dictatorial, bullying Father demands sweetbreads in a rich sauce for lunch, then throws them against the wall and has a well-deserved stroke. Daddy isn't long for this world, there is no deathbed re-inheritance for Serena.  She's not quite penniless. Daddy has left her the obligatory five hundred pound legacy - in his will he says that she can fend for herself.  Henry agrees and Matthew, well, Matthew toes the party line here. Gregory dumps her like last week's compost.
All Heather really  needed was her very own
kitty to love.
Mr. van Doelen is able to keep tabs on Serena's situation through his friends, the Bowrings. Why would he want to? It's a case of can't get her out of his mind...yes, he's in love.
A brief interlude with Henry and his spitefully mean social climbing lovely wife, Alice. Just another episode in her roster of unpaid household slavery.
Mr. van Doelen knows of a temp job that will suit. In a charmingly forthright and not sneaky way, he sends Serena a letter letting her know of it. She spends the next six weeks or so taking care of Heather, a neglected thirteen year old girl. Mr. van Doelen knows exactly when her temp job ends, and manages to be on hand to drive her to her destination.  What destination? She has no idea where she's going, but Mr. van D. does.  He takes her to his little pied-a-terre in Chelsea.  No hanky-panky, he's just offering her a place to stay while she job hunts. He won't be there - he's got to go back to Holland, she'll be rooming with Nanny.
Serena strategically forgets to put her return address
on her letter to Nanny.
There aren't a lot of options open for a gal with no marketable skills, but she does line up a sweet gig stocking grocery store shelves. Not only that, her new boss knows where she can find a room nearby. Girlfriend moves, leaving no forwarding address. Mr. van Doelen is obsessed with finding her, his only clue? The postmark from the letter she sent to Nanny in which she neglected (on purpose) to include a return address. He searches as only a man in love can. Upon finding Serena, he immediately proposes. Editor's Note: Yes, it's another MOC, but I kind of buy this one - he is desperate not to lose her again. Plus, she likes him a lot. It's a good offer whichever way you look at it.

Ivo and Serena have a very small ceremony - no family from either side - and it's off to Holland.
Married life is moving along just fine. Right up until Serena sees Ivo with a stunning woman and goes all green eyed monster...then realizes she's jealous because she loves him. Ivo is hers, darn it! Ivo on the other hand is jealous of Doctor Dirk (I'm snickering over his name...Dirk). Doctor Dirk is a slimeball - quite aggressive at chatting up birds - married or un, but Serena is not one to fall for his lines.
Ivo just can't help himself...every time he sees or hears of Doctor Dirk being around he flips. Serena is honest about what's going on...or rather, what's not going on.  Go ahead and be mad at me, I only danced with him to annoy you  while you were dancing with Rachel the Hottie.

Ivo goes into retreat mode, as far as their relationship goes. He's getting more distant by the day. Serena doesn't just wonder, she grabs the bull by the horns and asks Ivo for a hint as to what's wrong.
Him: Are you happy with our current arrangement?
Her: (lying through her teeth)...ummm, yes?
Him: Well I'm not....(telephone rings)...We'll have to pick up this conversation later - the hospital always comes first.
Of course it will be days and days of awkwardness and a  medical trip to Luxembourg  and a stint of Volunteer Work Gone Awry before any type of resolution is reached.

Serena is left behind after serving soup to the riff-raff. No one else notices the abandoned Bosnian toddler. Fast forward a couple of scary hours and a frantic Ivo tracks her down. True love is kissing the girl even with a grubby, wet, vomit-covered toddler is in her arms.  Professions of love on both sides, kissing on the stairs with Serena wearing only her slip and his coat. The end.

Rating: Overall this one was okay for me. It's fairly solid, but lacks some of the brilliance of earlier offerings from the canon. Here's what I liked:
  • Serena has a refreshing honesty.
  • She has no problem recognizing her lack of love for Gregory and is quite alright about being dumped by him when he finds out she has no inheritance.
  • Ivo has his moments too. I love it when he tells her that they will be happy they are walking down the aisle to get married. 
  • The slimy Doctor Dirk is kind of fun for me - Serena never falls for him - but she does use him to get back at Ivo for dancing with the beautiful and mysterious Rachel. 
Here's what didn't work so well for me:
  • I hate that Serena puts up with her horrid father and brothers for years as an unpaid servant.
  • My biggest complaint is when Ivo goes all icy when she assumes Rachel might be more than a friend - after all, he was ready to assume she was falling for Doctor Dirk. 
  • If I had one wish for this book, it would be that there was more potential for future implied conjugal relations. Only once do we get a glimpse of barely suppressed passion: 'Ivo didn't kiss her because he wasn't sure if he could trust himself to stop at a peck on her cheek.' I'm not looking for trips to Brighton, but really, that's as much passion as we get? 
I'm going to be generous and give this one a Boeuf en Croute.

No one filled out a slip like
Elizabeth Taylor
February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011

Food: Mr. Lightwood orders Serena to serve him such delicacies as devilled kidneys on toast, roast pheasant and sweetbreads in a rich sauce. Coq au vin, Queen of Puddings, globe artichokes with truffle dressing, grilled salmon with potato straws, baked Alaska, sausage and red cabbage, jellied lobster (yuk), spinach and walnut salad, rump of lamb and an ice cream dessert 'which beggered discription'.

Fashion: A dress which Serena sends her father the bill for and then he fakes a heart attack, after that it's all old clothes like her faded blue cotton dress, wedding outfit of soft blue dress and jacket, russet jersey dress, honey-coloured silk and wool dress and jacket, pink silk and chiffon dress, patterned skirt and cashmere top, deep pink silk crepe with marabou stole, pink silk jersey dress, blue-green dress with embroidered bodice and wide taffeta skirt. Final outfit? A smelly slip and his coat.

*Editor's Note:  I was looking for a non-hoochy picture of a woman in a slip - and thought of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (which I have never actually seen - but I remembered the pictures)...anywho...I posted the final two pictures of Elizabeth Taylor before I found out that she had passed away.  I leave them here as a tribute to her awesome younger years. Admit it, no one rocked a slip like she did.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    First off, what I consider to be THE picture of Elizabeth Taylor in a slip. May she rest in peace.

    And now to the book. Except for the totally OTT family foisted on Serena, not a whole lot happened in this book. I liked Serena, I liked Ivo, but... I (ahem) found it rather dull, or, rather lacking in energy or maybe even (gasp!)boring. Nothing we haven't seen handled better but not bad, either.
    I did enjoy getting to see Christina and Duert ter Brandt again-now 17 years into their marriage.

  2. I was disappointed that we didn't get to meet Christina and Duert's kids. I don't often feel as though I could put myself in The Great Betty's metaphorical shoes, but I do feel that I would have had a LOT of fun imagining what a classic Neels couple's teenagers would have been like. (And not just that they were smart, well-behaved, and safely away at school, either.)

    I'll admit -- I haven't quite finished this yet. But I'm at the point that Dirk appears like a fast food order: Plot Device To Go. Suddenly it felt regrettably predictable what was going to happen again.

    And, really, Betty Debbie -- I'm with you. The MOC feels sensible here: they can't live together, he can't just park her in Chelsea and visit every few weeks, and it's in the RDD Charter that he can't declare his feelings.

    But what irks me is that the RDD Charter seems to include a couple steps I would prefer it didn't. One is "Leave the new MOC bride alone for several days while you travel on business -- even though you expressly said you'd take her with you -- because 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'." That NEVER works -- have you noticed? Yes, some MOC brides have their Dawning Realization while the RDD is overseas (or wherever) but when he comes back to her, she's pokered up and he's not making any effort to build on the supposed advantage his absence has afforded him.

    I would so love it if an RDD went away (as per the RDD Charter) but when he came back, he swept the heroine into one of those spontaneous, I-can't-help-myself embraces and admitted he'd missed her. Instead, they slink back in like a half-feral cat, check her out to see if she's leaping into his arms (she's the one you abandoned, dude!), and when she doesn't, he feigns even greater levels of indifference. Human nature, but bad strategy, it seems to me.

    Off to read the rest of the book!

  3. I have to agree with Betty Barbara - there was a lack of energy. This is one of those books that ALMOST makes me believe in the conspiracy theory about ghostwriters (see Discovering Daisy published the same year). Most of the elements are of the plug and play variety - that said, it doesn't suck nearly as much as it could have.

  4. Betty Magdalen--
    LOL! I also wanted to meet the kids! I suspect they would have as little resemblance to real kids as did most of the other children in her books.

    Betty Debbie--Funny you should mention the (whisper)ghostwriter rumors, because I had the same thought. Now, when I was reading Discovering Daisy, my main thought was that I had read the book years before and that the copyright date was wrong!

  5. Betty Barbara again--
    Oops, I forgot to sign the previous post-but y'all knew it was me, right?

    Betty Magdalen--
    Now you get why some of us cringe when Hugo brings Janet home from the airport with him after his long overseas trip! Not only does he fail to swoop, but he has brought 'the other woman'(or at least that's who Sara believes her to be and Hugo has never disabused her of this idea) with him! Talk about Epic Bad Strategy!!
    Typical RDD idiocy.

  6. Betty Barbara -- Janet is in love with someone else, which Hugo knows and -- kill him for not adding 2 + 2 and getting 4 if you must -- he doesn't see her as "The Other Woman." It simply never occurs to him that a) Sarah's fallen in love with him, b) she'd find the ring and the letter in his jacket pocket but not read the entire letter, and c) that she's seeing Janet as a possible rival.

    Look, Hugo's been secretly in love with Sarah for years and he persuaded her to marry him on the rebound so he figures he's got one foot on a banana peel and the other in divorce court. Blind, yes, but not callous. His is the classic case of the man who refuses to hope because finding out that his love is not reciprocated would be too devastating to be borne.

  7. Betty Barbara here--
    Betty Magdalen--yes, yes, yes--WE know Janet's not 'the other woman, Hugo knows she's not, but Sarah doesn't.
    But my point is that he brought her home from the airport with him; it would have been just as wrong to bring home the Pope!! He gave Sarah No Opportunity to show her true feelings for him. He should have come home alone, bearing flowers-the dolt. He deserves all the suffering he goes through, and then some.

  8. I love blood feuds that aren't about The Hasty Marriage...(grabs the popcorn tub). Don't mind me, you two...

  9. Betty Barbara -- Well, of course I disagree. ☺

    Hugo is so far gone in his unrequited love that he can't even imagine Sarah will ever love him. Before she has her Dawning Realization, she minds that he's out on Tuesdays and Fridays. When he takes her to the clinic, she's thrilled and tells him "I shall be with you," with a wide smile.

    He says, "Er--yes, so you will. I didn't realize that you would wonder where I was."

    She tells him he's ridiculous, that of course she wondered, and that she'd even thought maybe he'd wanted to be away from her. He denies it in that gives-nothing-away voice that RDDs have. Sarah is happy again, and she treats him like a good friend, nothing more. (p. 97 in the original US edition; penultimate scene in Chapter 5)

    Her dawning realization comes after that, and only on the heels of seeing that all her feelings for Steven have gone. But she still believes Hugo is pining for Janet as his lost love (which, admittedly, he allowed Sarah to believe, probably to provide some parity with her feelings for Steven), so she goes into SEH (Stupid English Heroine) mode and gets all withdrawn and frosty.

    Hugo even senses that something's different, so he asks her if she has anything to tell him and she says no. And from that point on, they misread each other continually. Hugo thinks Sarah's belief he's in love with Janet's memory is evidence that she's still hung up on Steven, while Sarah thinks Hugo's brief flashes of frustration are directed at her, not because he despairs of ever getting her to love him.

    At one point they're discussing places that make them happy and give them the feeling that something wonderful is going to happen. Hugo tells her that he's recently been thinking that same feeling will become substance. He's talking about them, of course, but all Sarah can think is that he surely doesn't expect to meet Janet again, does he? (See? She's supplying her own narrative and getting it all wrong. He has no clue that's what she's doing.)

    Yes, Hugo did insist on traveling alone because of the "absence makes the heart grow fonder" dictum in the RDD MOC Charter. But there's nothing to suggest he brought Janet back to the house to make Sarah jealous -- in fact, he's surprised Sarah knows immediately that it is Janet. He's also surprised that Sarah immediately invites Janet to dinner.

    Now, from his point of view, Janet's a bit of a shield and a bit of a litmus test. But he's getting bad results with the litmus test, as Sarah's proving to be wildly more acidic than he'd hoped she'd be when he got home. Instead of hoping she's a bit in love with him, he starts to think that she wants him to go off with Janet.

    By the time we have the skirmish over the "DEAREST" ring -- she finds it but lies; he worries that she's learned how besotted he feels about her -- Janet is the least of their problems. Hugo asks Sarah flat out if she loves Steven and she changes the subject. Sarah herself acquits Hugo of having gone to America to meet Janet (p. 177) but assumes their meeting was just one of those things that Fate contrives.

    Bottom line -- his bringing Janet home wasn't even a necessary condition to the misunderstanding, let alone a sufficient condition. He's not blameless, to be sure, but I'd give the nod to Sarah for managing to add 2 + 2 and getting 3.14159.

    So, if your point is that the book would have ended sooner if Janet hadn't been with him, yes. But he wasn't being malicious and even insensitive because he has no idea that Sarah's got them paired up already even before meeting Janet. (Heck, for all we know maybe Hugo thought that once Sarah met Janet, she'd see that there was nothing between Hugo and Janet anymore.)

    But the ending is THE BEST in all of The Canon, so I'm cool with the Janet factor.

  10. Betty Keira -- Pass the popcorn. All this reference-checking has made me hungry!

  11. Betty Barbara here--
    After fortifying myself with a single serve Orville Reddenbacher--
    Just one quibble and I will let it be.
    I never believed that he brought Janet home with him because he wanted to make Sarah jealous! I was just mad that he brought anyone home at all!! Having done the traveling alone part of 'absence, etc', having had all those lovely phone conversations, Hugo Botches the Pay-Off by walking through the door with a guest. Like I said--Dolt! RDD=Rich Dutch Dolt, at this point. He wasn't being malicious, he wasn't being callous--he was being Stupid!!
    And yes, the seeds of the misunderstanding were already sprouting--one of Betty's best books for showing two people talking at cross purposes. (I spent the last part of the book wanting to smack their heads together). And the ending was good.

    Bottom line--your favorite book, but not mine.

    Now, where's Betty JoDee? I bet she's happy we aren't talking Reilof (*g*)

  12. (Throwing popcorn at Betty Barbara's head!)

  13. Ooo! I have missed you ladies. :-) I gave you and Betty up for lent. :-( It's been tough. Lucky today is a feast day. :-) I have lots of catching up to do this evening.
    I like A Good wife. It's all worth it for the Bosnian baby and the slip at the end. He is so sweet when he's desperate.

  14. Gave us up for Lent?! Possibly the most flattering thing ever done about us...

  15. I'm glad you see it that way. I thought you might be offended. It has been tough, but I was spending WAY too much time on here. Sunday is always a feastday, so I get to check in every Sunday, but it's quiet around here on Sundays.

  16. Wow, page references...literary theory....I need to learn how to footnote on this thing! You've got to bring your "A" game to Neelsdom.

  17. I think I'll start referring to it as The Nasty Marriage.

    Betty Barbara, it could have been worse. Hugo could have brought Nasty Reilof home with him (thus, catching Bad Husband cooties).

    Wake up, Betty Keira, I'm back.

  18. I see a doctoral dissertation in here somewhere.

  19. Well, All the talk of Sarah and Hugo (I just read that one last week! I'm thinking it's one of my favorites...) - But the Good Wife isn't as bad as some have made it out ;) (IMO) and I'm sorry teh Ending MADE the book for me! The whole slip and his coat was just so "un-Betty" and Wim retreating saying they won't be having dinner just then - WOW HOW suggestive! I liked Ivo b/c he's free with the money but he also goes with her shopping at times (that's LOVE!) Over all I liked- it wasn't horrible... BUT I loved the off-topic discussion of Hugo and Sarah- you ladies are TOO funny!