Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Final Touch--1991

Even Bono feels it: 'And the last Betty read,
yeah, sounds the clanging chimes of doom...'
 Have you felt the gnarled, chilly hand of disaster reaching out to you in the dark watches of the night?  Have you strode quickly past dead-end alleyways, fleeing from the dread that dare not speak its name?  Have you caught yourself staring into the sun hoping, always hoping, to bring back those carefree hours of days gone by when this vague menace wasn't annexing room after room of your fevered brain?  Me too.  We're done, Bettys.  The Final Touch really is the final touch and when I had finally turned the last of some 13,000 pages I've read this last year I was genuinely sad.  (Not that I haven't rehearsed the ticker tape parade of The End of Days but I did not expect to feel that Tom Hanks-ian Brain Cloud.)  But that was a week ago and I still have a review to write!  Let's gird up our loins, adjust the C-cups and get on with it.

Professor Tyco van der Brons, 39, does not work in the Path Lab.  So why is he staring with microscopic intensity at the mousy English nurse?  He knows her history--hasn't it been hospital grapevine fodder for weeks now?  She found a job here in Holland on the recommendation of Cor van Kamp (a worthless young scalp-collector) and, with a trusting instinct no more developed than a babe newly born, she built high hopes on the lines he fed her.  Tyco sees all this but his own troubled romantic history lends him an extra-sensory perception.  Though he is a lofty professor/consultant of 39, he sees that Nurse Charity Pearson , 23, is about to have a similar romantic fall.  Moreover, he seems to know that she won't be able to brush it off like other girls her age.  He doesn't love her but he, nevertheless, knows that she's JUST. LIKE. HIM.    
Charity is heartsick--not just to be on the receiving end of pitying glances and bracing smiles, but genuinely torn up that Cor proves himself to be so unworthy of her, by this time, unwilling regard--and accepts the Professor's brotherly hand of friendship with happy relief.  Still, Cor is becoming a growing problem.  He's like a barnacle that has attached itself to her hull and won't shake itself loose.  She's convinced that an extended stay at a maritime museum dry docks is just what the doctor ordered--barnacles will be scraped and no new ones will have a chance to try their cement glands on her at all. 
My side-arm is in my other pants...
As he pesters her on the ward and brushes her hand or squeezes her shoulder, Cor is revealed as that most tiresome kind of man--the kind poisoning the water wells as he moseys into the sunset.  Thank heavens Tyco is handy with six-shooters and side-winders.  Charity is moved to the burn unit...headed by the Rootin'est Tootin'est Gun in the Holland. 
Tyco already knows that Charity has self-control, dignity, a fine work ethic, empathy toward the disfigured and a willingness to throw her punches straight from the shoulder but he also has occasion to learn that she's an Urban Supergirl.  Rushing into a burning row house she saves the life of an infant and a toddler, receiving some burns on the backs of her hands herself (which, btw, seems like a funny place to get them unless you're holding a baby and pushing open a door with the exposed part of your hand).  Tyco discovers her in shock sitting on her bed in the nurse's home, treats her and (I think) decides then and there to sometime soon offer her a marriage of convenience.  Why else would he lay bare the sordid history of his philandering first wife?  He establishes himself as a fellow sufferer of love's outrageous fortune, gets to tell her about his marital status...and the kids.
Oh, have I not mentioned them?  Letizia and Teile (First wives--for that matter, all wives--in Neelsland are Fertile Myrtles) are two precocious 10-year-old twins brought up by their soon-to-be-leaving governess, Miss Bloom--a velvet hand in the steel glove. They like Charity right away (which Tyco observes with relief) and press her to visit them again.  (She's there for tea.)  Not very long after, she makes the amazing discovery that Cor no longer matters. 
Hard on the heels of that is Tyco's proposal.  Only believe me when I say I have a great regard for you and believe that we could be happy as a family. He proposed for the sake of the girls, of course.  That, and the cold fact that she doesn't excite him.  Why else?  Not even Tyco could answer that one.
There's Newly Married and then there's Snuggie Married
So they marry.  The little girls are outfitted in matching dresses and Charity is wearing a new hat and patent leather shoes.  The ink isn't try on the wedding license before Mijnheer and Mevrouw van der Brons have commandeered two fire-place adjacent wing-back chairs that, though it illustrates a different scene, reminds me forcibly of the words 'And Ma in her Kerchief and I in my Cap had just settled down to a long Winter's nap'.  As Sheryl Crow might say, 'This ain't no disco.'  But he reads his papers and she knits jumpers for the girls and, no doubt, he is congratulating himself on a task well-managed.
Until he falls in love with her.  He thought he knew what she was like--and he did know on some cerebral level that she was loyal, brave, plucky...But living with her is something else entirely and maybe he remembers that first, wretched marriage (that was never any sort of marriage at all) contrasted with the quiet pleasure now of coming home to his family and his feelings become quite jumbled.  Suddenly it matters awfully that anyone would ever hurt someone as wonderful as Charity and maybe it matters, too, that he's so much older than she is and...As you can tell, Tyco is on his beam ends.
But Charity is still wandering flashlight-less in a Dark Romantic Fog and might still be if not for the untimely appearance of Eunice, who, is probably as flat-chested as her name indicates.  She is Charity's step-sister and your average, run-of-the mill fashion model come to play tennis.  (Not tennis?  Then why is her back-hand so good?)
I love this part because it could really have gone off the rails but doesn't. 
Charity had the exterminator on speed dial.
  • Eunice invites herself to the townhouse.  (I'm reminded of those Orkin commercials where the life-sized bug wants to use the phone as a pretext to home invasion.)
  • Charity lies to her face and tells her she has to leave at the end of the week.  (Birthday party. Loads of family.  Don't let the door hit you on the rear on your way out.)
  • Tyco backs Charity up to the hilt (Which is a welcome relief from all those RDDs who think out of a mistaken sense of honor that one mustn't dislodge a guest under circumstances short of burning the house down--which, come to think of it, Charity might have been willing to do.), making the most of his opportunities by ramping up the endearments.
  • One of the girls gets sick on the very night that Tyco promised to take Flat-chested Eunice out to dinner. A minor spat ensues and then, later that night as Charity lurks in the shadows, Tyco KISSES Eunice...or she pretends to.
Happily, Charity doesn't have to resort to burning down the house.  Though Eunice was to leave the following afternoon, she tells her to get the $^%$  out of her #@!$#  house and not to darken her *@#;*!@ -- ;#@@#^  door ever again.  (Think of a Samuel L. "Bleep-Bleep" Jackson-Snakes-on-a-Plane freak out.)
Tyco and Charity have another spat (pretty minor stuff) where they are more than willing to meet each other half-way (but not at the same time) and it is just too bad that when Tyco leans forward to deliver an affectionate kiss Charity steps away.  Don't do that.  I can't bear it
A mini ice age develops on their front doorstep.
Later the next day, Charity is trotting down the hospital corridor on her way from having tea with the SNO and probably feeling less the Grand Married Lady than she ever has, when Cor oozes out from under the nearest rock.  Though he attempts to break her composure, she sweeps past him in a gesture that reminds me of when the mad-cap Sister Maria returns from her honeymoon with The Captain and he has to sing Edelweiss in front of everybody and she moves to his side, picking up the threads of his lost melody and beckons with all the confidence of a happily married woman to her children to join them. 
Tyco sees them, however and missed the subtleties of her confident gesture and accuses her of "meetings".  She fights back the only way she knows how; by reaching up on her tippy-toes and kissing his chin.
He chases her down, bundles her into the car, gets her nice and alone and kisses her back.
The End


Rating:  Queen of Puddings.  I really like this book and maybe it doesn't deserve this high a rating but my Wistful-O-Meter (see right) over the end of reviews has been hovering around Anne Murray and threatening any moment to enter the hitherto uncharted Don McLean reaches so I'm giving myself some artistic license on this one.
I have a theory about books--that any one of them can find a comparable Jane Austin equivalent.  So, The Final Touch is not sparkling like Pride and Prejudice but quietly romantic like Persuasion.  Charity has such a raw deal and Tyco expects so little happiness in life that, even though they're not riding many emotional roller-coasters, you're rooting for them to make a happy family.  I'm never tempted to get irritated with Charity for that I-shall-never-love-again business because her hurt and humiliation are just so fresh.  Tyco is forgiven for it because his first at-bat was a fiasco of Homeric proportions.
Letizia and Teile are darlings.  I love the part where they make doll houses out of old boxes with Charity.
I enjoy all the hospital set-up in this one too.  You really get a sense of the enormous social chasm that ought to have separated them (underlined vividly when Charity returns after her marriage to have tea with the senior nursing officer) but doesn't because, at heart, they are cut from the same cloth.
Eunice is an interesting distraction and, happily, Tyco isn't terribly good at dangling her in Charity's face (for that matter, Charity is being rather obstinate about her motherly duties), even going so far as to compliment Charity for her ability to lie like a trooper just to toss her sister to the curb.   

Food: Groentensoup, zeetong (sole), spekpannenkoeken with stroop, kerstkrans (a ring-shaped Christmas cake), poulet a l'estragon, pumpkin souffle, biscuit glace with fresh raspberries, wedding cake, little mushroom pancakes, and vichyssoise (just saying it makes my IQ jump ten points).

Fashion: Charity owns a soft, grey jersey dress which sounds suspiciously mouse-like, a burned coat gets replaced with a dark green winter coat and she buys a cranberry needlecord that carries her through upsetting social occasions like getting proposed to.  She has to talk the girls out of satin and yards of lace and a pearl-embroidered veil and satin slippers and long white gloves and into the considerably less romantic wool coat, hat and patent leather shoes (If Kate Middleton shows up in these tomorrow I lay odds that the monarchy could cock its toes up.).  She totters around on high heels for the girls and owns a gorgeous sapphire dress.  Sister Eunice swans around in fashions that probably reached their sell-by date before the book hit the publishers.