Monday, March 14, 2011

Off With the Old Love--1987

This is the rabbit-fur jacket book.  That's how I remember it...

Radmer van Teule, 35, can't as much as order roast beef sandwiches or boost a co-worker onto a step or offer his surgical notes to his theatre sister Rachel Downing, 25, without every gesture bespeaking an endearment.
'That (chair) will give way one day...Won't you sit on mine, sir?' 
Something was obscuring her vision...
'Only when you're not here, Rachel.'
And it's as though he's found one of Shakespeare's lost love sonnets. (Shall I compare thee to my special forceps?  Thou art more useful and more shiny...)  But she can't hear that.  He's just an enormously respected surgeon about whose home life she has not a speck of interest.
The mote (cough*beam*cough) in her eye, blocking her view of all that solid, good-humored worthiness is Melville the Slim-Hipped Man-Child Hipster.  And what a piece of work he is. 
Melville is a television producer which is enough to excuse enormous reservoirs of bad behavior.
Melville Grant knew he was the bee's knees...
  • He's critical of her clothing?  He's a TV producer!
  • Doesn't like the country?  How could he?  He's a TV producer!
  • Breaks dates? TV producer...
  • Dismisses her profession?  See above.
Sure, she hates his friends and the bad food and gasoline flavored drinks and extravagant lifestyle and how he's always darting off in the middle of dates to network with fast TV types (Just think how wonderful this book would have been had cell phones been at all common in 1987!  He'd be that loud blue-tooth wearer, smugly sure that everyone is listening in to his conversation because it's that awesome.) but what's a girl to do?
Editorial Note:  Yes, Rachel is stupid to love him but in a way that makes me want to take a slow drag from a French cigarette, execute a Gallic shrug and mutter 'C'est l'amour' into my steak tartar.
For his part, the Professor looks on at her romantic drama with despair...and then he hatches a plan.  I imagine him spending the first year he loved her telling himself that he was too old for her.  And then when she meets Melville, he plunges further into hopelessness.  (Because she's happy, right?)  But now he can see that she isn't happy and she's likely to make a dreadful mistake and even if he is too old, he's surely better than Melville!
And that's when he assigns himself as her personal agony aunt.  His plan is simple really.
  • Listen to her troubles.  Assure her that his motives are altruistic as he has a girl waiting in the wings to marry.  
  • Seem to gather all your advice from the wildly improbable if strangely popular book The Rules (There are 35 'rules' and these are the ones he passes on: "Be a creature unlike any other", "Always end call and dates first" and "Don’t See Him More than Once or Twice a Week").  No, he doesn't actually have a pocket edition in his suit at all times but it feels like he does. (It was published in 1995 and the estate of La Neels should consider pursuing litigation against the authors.)
  • Spread a large trapeze-grade net under her in the more-than-likely event that Melville will fail to pick up what she is putting down.
And things do appear to get better between her and the Man-Child for a time.  He is more-or-less attentive and very near courteous but they always seem to be on the outs anyway.  Perhaps it's because he's snogging a blonde American "actress"!  (Yes. He. Is.) Radmer wishes she could think it all out calmly and dispassionately somewhere miles away and then has a stroke of genius.  He'll send her to an International Convention for Theatre Sisters (but secretly, because girlfriend would probably refuse to go if she thought she was that much trouble to him).
He's one of the presenters so they get to hang out a little and she has the dawning realization that he is H.O.T. (alas, nothing more) but on the last day, when Radmer is practically stalking her behind the potted palms, he is just too late to prevent her from seeing Melville arrive with that bosom-y blonde starlet tartlet who wants the room key from him because she wants to take a shower! (The Venerable Neels writes this so as to leave no other construction on it than that this European hotel is also doubling as Brighton.  She also points neon lights at them.)
Tears and ugliness are postponed until Radmer gets her back up to her room--but ugliness there is.
To prevent a full-on theater melt-down, he sells a pack of lies to her nursing superior and whisks her off to his parent's Friesian estate.  He's understanding ('We've all been fools in our time...') and his patience with her makes me want to do him a favor and be patient with her myself.
No one ever expects the 2x4 of Dawning Realization...
But reality beckons and duties must be shouldered again.  Rachel returns to her home and that awful nursing rut when she is suddenly and gloriously pole-axed by the Blinding Two-By-Four of Dawning Realization between the eyes.  Radmer, his perceptions trained to be ultra-sensitive to the slightest tremor of Rachel's emotional life, understands at once.
He calls her to a committee room.
Lots and lots of kissing and a firm date to be married five days hence.
The End 

Rating: Boeuf en croute.  I really like the set-up (that rabbit-fur coat is unforgettable) and it's not hard to believe that Radmer would happily walk across a lake of molten fire to fetch a left-behind lipstick for Rachel.  (Think Rachel and Jacob-I-worked-seven-years-to-marry-you kind of love.)
Melville is a peach...the kind rotting in the compost pile--and it's so much fun hating him, contrasting his meaningless 'darling's and brow-puckered sartorial criticisms to Radmer--the kind of man whose every action says I will love you til I die.
Swing Dance Guy makes another conquest.
So,why does she love that fink?  I'll illustrate with a metaphor.  Melville reminds me of Swing Dance Guy.  (Not all Swing dancers are Swing Dance Guys) You know him, right?  That guy was at every dance I've ever been to.  (His face changes but his identity remains the same.)  At first, you're pleased and surprised that Swing Dance Guy plucked you out of obscurity to practice his dynamic and intriguing moves on--that his gyrations are for you and you alone.    And then it slowly dawns on you that Swing Dance Guy needs a partner (or else he's no better than Dancing With Herself Girl) and that all you are is a skirt and a pair of heels.  Also, it dawns on you that Swing Dance Guy is convinced he's the special-est snow flake ever and that he's a bit smug about not being one of those 'regular' dance people.   That's when you leave Swing Dance Guy to the tender mercies of some other starry-eyed young flower of maidenhood and trot off to find someone to disclose your inner-most secrets to and shuffle awkwardly around the dance floor with--someone like Sure, I Can Give You a Ride Home Guy. 

Food: The hospital serves fish-pie on Fridays (from religious roots?), Melville takes her to bars and parties where the best she can expect are salted nuts and crudites or potato straws.  We also get roast beef sandwiches, sausages, crisps, watercress soup, steak and kidney pie, home made ice cream, turnips and instant mash ( food), ginger cake, drinks that taste like 'sugared petrol', an omelet and caramel cream, and oyster patties.  (Pretty much, if it sounds awful, Melville peddled it and if it sounds delish (and homey), Radmer did the honors.)  When her whole life crumbles before her eyes, Radmer takes her off for omelet Arnold Bennett, a water ice (?) and cold cucumber soup--which all sounds like he's a Medieval doctor trying not to inflame her humors.

Fashion: She wears a lot of expensive and eye-catching clothes that she can ill afford just to please Melville (high heels, vivid blouses...), even though he's always giving the wrong answer to 'How do I look?' (The right answer is always, 'Darling, you look wonderful tonight.').  Radmer doesn't mind her quilted jackets and sensible shoes.  She wears a short rabbit-fur jacket to a tedious party and gets a lot of mileage out of silk jersey dresses.