Monday, May 14, 2012

Uncertain Summer - Reprise

I do enjoy Uncertain a certain extent. Right up until that ghastly realization that by marrying the lovely Gijs, Serena is also marrying into his extended family (I sincerely hope they avoid family reunions with Laurens the Fink and his icicle mother). Serena is one of the more confused/flawed characters in the canon - but - whether you love her or hate her, you probably know/knew someone just like her.  I think that's what make this one readable (if cringe-worthy in places) for me.  I just place (fill in the blank) in Serena's role and read about a HEA that probably won't happen for (fill in the blank) because she doesn't have a Gijs or the good sense to recognize a Gijs if he came along.

Betty Debbie

Uncertain Summer, to be understood fully, should be cross-referenced with The Hasty Marriage. I know that many of you are not big fans of the later book (Betty JoDee, I'm looking at you). One protagonist falls in love with the wrong person right out of the gate, is casual to the point of rudeness to the person who loves him, is jilted, contracts a MOC, and learns to love again. The Hasty Marriage, told from the perspective of Laura (the innocent party trying to make her husband fall in love with her), it is a difficult read (I still love it, Betty JoDee. ;P). Uncertain Summer is the exact same plot but told from the perspective of the jilted fiancee (this time a female). She must make do with her MOC and The Great Betty treats everyone so gently that Serena (blind for an awfully long time) isn't someone you want to hit in the head with a brick too much (as some wish to do with Reilof throughout THM--he's nasty where she is thoughtless).
Also, can I get a shout-out for the cover art?

Serena Potts, a 24-year-old Casualty and Accident nurse, has just been hit on. She must get that a lot. She's a petite, dark-haired dish.
Hey, baby, am I having a heart attack or did I just fall in love?
Sweetheart, am I dyin
g? Because you sure look like an angel. Etc., etc.
The man with the smashed up leg and smashed up E-Type Jag looks up from his delirium and says, "What a beautiful little gypsy girl." Of course, he had the good taste to say it in Dutch first, establishing his Hot Foreign Guy bona fides. (An accent instantly making a man gain one full grade level above similar domestic brands.) His name is Laurens van Amstel and he is a doctor from Zierikzee, Holland.
Could this be our hero lying romantically prone on the Cas room gurney? Alas, no. Driving the wrong way down a one way street and wrecking an auto that, along with Shakespeare and the Magna Carta, ranks as a cultural endowment of the Sovereign Nation of Great Britain to the Peoples of the World does not a hero make.
So if he's not the hero he must be The Fink.
In a manner not calculated to make me think well of my sex, Serena promptly loses her head and her heart.
Crossing the hospital lobby at the end of her shift she spots a beat-up Mini. Ah. There's our hero unfolding himself from its Lilliputian cavity. It's Laurens' cousin. Gijs van Amstel. And if Laurens is The Destroyer then Gijs is The Builder.
Before we know it, Laurens is rushing Nurse Potts off her sensible feet. Oblique references to True Love (in caps with hearts and arrows drawn metaphorically around it) and his hope (demand) that she drop everything and spend eternity in his embrace does not make her gag. Maybe an unusually heavy breakfast is keeping all that bile down...Everybody has their own way of expressing misgivings of the glib-tongued charmer but my favorite is Staff Nurse Joan. "But ducky, be your age..."
In the mean time, Gijs-what's-his-name (for that is how she thinks of him and (mortifyingly) treats him) travels to and from Holland and allows Laurens to use him as a remote Taxi service. He takes Serena to her home (no small distance) and fetches her back again and all she can do is moon over Laurens and be as casually dismissive to Gijs as possible. Happily, as far as rudeness goes, this is Serena's high water mark.
Editorial Note:
I grant you that Reilof's intentional awfulness in The Hasty Marriage was way worse than Serena's amateurish efforts but both protagonists are coming from the same place emotionally.
Laurens asks Serena to come to Holland and quit her job. Is he proposing? It sounds awfully like it but, like some elusive wad of Flubber, he is difficult to pin down. For his part, Gijs is furious at his cousin for snaring Serena. He knows it won't work out and Laurens is playing ducks and drakes with with everybody's happiness.
I have to skip a ton but while in England, Gijs is very kind to Serena and lets Laurens take the credit for his thoughtfulness. He charms her family, most particularly Mrs. Potts. Also, for the first time you see Serena as a worthwhile person when she wishes she could strangle the life out of a baby beater. Gijs sees it too and I'm happy he finally has a rational reason to love her.
But the days until she travels to Holland are counting down. While shopping for her trip she gets involved in an accident on The Underground (Can I call it The Tube? Am I allowed?). Gijs is there to patch her up (a lovely symbol of his role in the tale) with 8 tiny stitches by her eyebrow.
When Laurens (on his leg again and driving the inevitable (and possibly doomed) E-Type Jag) shows up to collect her, the best he can muster is "Hey babe, the disfiguring scar had better fade."
Against Gijs' advice (who I imagine was sick with worry to think of placing Serena in Laurens' careless care), he drives her home to Zierikzee. Serena gets a chilly welcome from the darkened house and an even chillier one the next morning from his dipped-in-formaldehyde mother.
Serena: Why does you mother think this is going to be a short visit? We're getting married, right?
Laurens: Did that disfiguring scar affect your brain? Cool it babe. Even though I implied enough devotion for you to quit your job and traverse a major body of water doesn't mean I'm ready to power down my Acme Wild-Oat Sower.
Serena is confused by his distant manner and when an elegant blonde shows up at a party she is convinced that Laurens is playing the field.
Serena: Who is she? only child--poor girl. I'm sorry for only children, aren't you?
S: Yes I think I am.
G: Ah, at last I have found something about myself in which you can show some interest--I am an only child.
She said woodenly, not caring in the least: I'm sorry. Did you find it very lonely?
It helps, if you don't want to rattle the teeth right out of her, to remember her real and spontaneous care over the battered baby. She's got feelings but isn't' capable of civility today.
When Serena happens upon Laurens and Adriana (trust me, she's not worth our time) in a public clinch, it is Gijs who rushes in with an implausible explanation. What's that cousin of mine doing, kissing my girl?
But Serena is so relieved that she fails to see the cracks in his Piecrust of Falsehood.
Such a shame that so delicate a pastry is doomed to shatter. When Serena discovers an irrefutable piece of evidence that Laurens is The Fink King (snogging in the garden with what's-her-name) she turns on her heel and runs up the driveway. If only Gijs would be there!
Wasn't Adriana his girl? Didn't he tell her there was nothing going on? To which he replies with the best line ever. "Lies, wicked lies." Betty Kylene made a sampler for me (see left) sharing just that homily. (Above and beyond the call of Betty.) If I were a neglected wife of Neelsdom, I would do more samplers in this vein while sitting in the soft glow of a pink lampshade...
Gijs becomes her bulwark against further humiliations (as though he knew Laurens would not turn out well), collects her things, proposes to her and takes her to his parents' house--which is, in contrast to Laurens' Fudgesicle mother's house, a haven of welcome and kindness.
Editor's Note:
The Great Betty doesn't just whip through this episode. Mother van Amstel is especially darling. Betty takes time with everything and, thus, makes the happy ending happier. With in-laws like these...
But I digress...He proposes to her!? Standard pre-nup pep talk:
I don't like you like that. I'm not batting for the other team. (Yes, allusions to his 'normal man'-ness.) We'll be great friends. (Yada, yada, yada--I love you forever.)
She thinks it over which is when you know that she never really loved The Fink King in the first place. How could she contemplate moving to the same town and marrying his cousin/partner if she had a speck of real feeling for him? How could this girl, who surely doodled Mrs. Serena van Amstel, marry someone with the exact same name? Sure, Gijs is her safe harbor but if that's all it was, wild horses couldn't send her back to Zierikzee.
They travel back to England and stay at the home of Hugo and Sarah van Elvens (Fate is Remarkable--Meet the twins!). Upon reaching her home, she agrees to marry him only when he gets in his car to go. Gijs, you can't go! (Which ought to have told her something.)
At The Big Fat British Wedding (Gijs insists!) Laurens rates an invitation (so imagining Camilla Parker Bowles glowering at Princess Di in her heirloom lace) which would be reason to lace up the trainers and run, run, run from the van Amstel family. But when all is said and done, Gijs screeches into a lay-by for a bit of post-matrimonial snogging. "I haven't thanked you properly for [the pearls] yet--they're fabulous." He pulled into the side of the road and stopped the car. "Do thank me properly," he begged, and turned to her, a wicked gleam in his eyes. Hmmm. That affable union is not without compensations.
They settle down so well. He may have a hidden passion for her but he's not moody or aloof. He gives her a Basset hound named Gus, he lets her come on his rounds, they share a life. But always in the background is the lurking psychopath in the woods--Laurens. He finally comes back to work in the practice and, while Serena is happily substituting for a missing receptionist, he tears a strip off her. "I don't really think you mean to speak to my wife in that fashion, do you?" (President Andrew Jackson fought a duel on less provocation.) Laurens proves himself more boring to Serena than yesterday's leftovers. When did that happen?
Soon after, Gijs has a home delivery to attend that goes on until dawn. We are given what is one of the sweetest dawning realizations in all of Neelsdom--doubly treasured as Serena was so unworthy of his regard in the early stages. When Serena fetches Gijs tea, she sees the harsh early morning sun show up lines and furrows on his face and she suddenly knows that Laurens is hardly a flicker of a glimmer of a shadow of a speck. She loves her husband. Now what to do?
Gijs begins avoiding her--almost the first time he has been anything less than natural and candid. It is my contention that he senses some change in her and does not trust his self-control. Remember, he is a 'normal man'.
Here's the rest of the book in bullet points:
  • Little Timmy is trapped in a Rather, a couple of children (why is it always children, Betty? Why?!) get trapped in the famously rotted sub-floors of Holland. Serena to the rescue!
  • Gijs gets a few calls from Adriana--Who? Oh, yes, the blonde plot device.
  • Tante Emilie (Laurens' embalmed mother), drawing her snobbery around her like a too small shawl on a too cold day, queers Serena's pitch by implying that Adriana (who really cares about Adriana?) loves Gijs...if only he were free.
  • Oh, and Betty thumbed through her Atlas and found Laurens' a 'very good post in Pittsburgh'. ( I am not here to say anything bad about Pittsburgh but do you really think that a Fink King like Laurens' would seek a job in the Rust Belt? Methinks Betty closed her eyes and spun the globe on this one.)
  • Serena, her addition faulty (2+2=5), convinces herself that Gijs needs to be free.
So, she ups and offs to England only to find Gijs in Hugo and Sarah's parlor. Explanations follow. Adriana needed Gijs to give her some vaccinations for her move to Pittsburgh. (Get your own husband, toots!) Also, he tells her that he fell in love with her at first sight in the hospital lobby and determined to marry her on the way to Laurens' room. How adorable is that?
Kisses and a planned week at Hugo's Scotland cottage. (Which has seen a lot of implied conjugal relations.)
The End

Rating: Lashings of whipped cream.
And thank heavens for it. Betty Debbie and I made most of our July posts have something to do with Summer and most of the books were very ho-hum. How bleak was my Neels in July. How joyful I was then to dive into this one. Serena isn't an idiot. She's human and a little slow. The whole first half is her constructing her own gallows. The second act is her marching up them. Gijs is perfect from beginning to end. We get a lot of his point of view. He's waiting for Serena but rarely retreats into that aloof shell that most RDDs adopt. He grins. He kisses. I. Love. Him.
Laurens is also a credible villain. A Daisy Buchanan type--reckless and feckless, he adores being adored. I didn't buy Tante Emilie's sudden machinations at the end but I shan't quibble.
I skipped so many fun details that it kills me.

Food: Corn flakes, creme brulee, ham off the bone, new potatoes, apple pie and cream, a Charlotte Russe that falls apart on the night of their first dinner party, Gorkas Norge (Cucumber and anchovies and cream cheese and sour cream and caviar. I triple-dog-dare Betty Debbie to make this.), Pott's Point Fish Pot (which I cannot take seriously), Bavarian Cream, and rookworst.

Fashion: Clotted cream pleated skirt, corn-colored dress, Laurens' over-fussy dress shirt, her dream wedding dress (organza and a little net veil), her actual wedding dress (cream silk with tight sleeves and a high round neck and her mother's veil), a peach pink chiffon, cream gauze dress over silk with a pink velvet sash, and a little pink suit (with straw hat) to simultaneously lift her spirits and run away from her husband in.