Monday, June 11, 2012

The Proposal - Reprise

While The Proposal may be just average (an average Neels - not an average anyone else), this review by Betty Keira is well above the norm.  I love her story about our brother Joe, which must have taken place circa 1990-ish. It's one of those embarrassing situations that befall us all - in one way or another.  My personal equivalent would be the time I discovered that I had inadvertently tucked my uncrushable jersey dress into the top of my tights (while in the loo), just before walking into one of the larger lecture halls in college.  Oops. Thankfully I didn't run into Dr. van der Stevejinck just then - or else history might have taken a drastic turn.  I doubt if my ego could have handled a conversation with any man at that juncture - quailing doesn't even begin to describe how I would have reacted. 
-Betty Debbie



There are a few certainties in the Universe. God is good. The sun will rise in the East. Betty Keira will spare no effort to be as lazy as possible. And Meg Ryan will continue her descent into plastic surgery dementia. (Watched Kate and Leopold last night. How horribly frog-faced the once-gorgeous Meg looked. To quote Better Off Dead: Truly a sight to behold. A man beaten. The once great champ, now, a study in moppishness. No longer the victory hungry stallion we've raced so many times before, but a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion. )
But I digress...
This Betty likes to review the short books generally (They're short. What's not to like?) because those stalwart pioneer genes skipped around a bit, landed squarely on Betty Debbie and only glanced off Betty Keira (I"m rubber, you're glue...). So, The Proposal. Let's on to it:

First, we'll begin with a short personal story. When I was 12 or so, my mom sent me to the park with some younger siblings, one of whom was my brother Joe (also 12) who has Down Syndrome. When you've got a family like ours being stared at is rather par for the course but Joe (who is awesome and couldn't hurt a fly if he tried but was big, slobbery, able to lick his eyebrows, etc.) was making some of the mommies and little kids nervous. He, while pretty big, still liked the kiddie slide and whatnot.
One mommy beckoned over a police officer (for why?) who wanted to talk to me. There I was, standing in a growing circle of interested observers, 12, mortified, angry at dumb grownups, both defensive about my brother and wishing him to the Black Hole of Calcutta, and talking to a uniformed officer of the law. Out of nowhere, my big puppy of a brother tackles me to the ground and I'm looking up at blue sky. Kill me now, I think.
It is this that makes me have such affinity for Francesca Haley.
There she is, a bright, vivid girl of 25, dressed in shabby clothes and engaged in the less-than-impressive activity of walking her employer's tiny lapdog. Meeting the man of your dreams in such circumstances would surely make even the bravest woman quail. Meeting him after being knocked to the ground by a massive and dirty-pawed one-eyed dog--and being kept there while he rests his paw on your chest--is too much to ask.
She's a bit touchy but being at such a disadvantage excuses great swaths of bad behavior as far as I'm concerned.
She hurries back to the service entrance (Betty Kylene has a service entrance in her new-to-her retro 50s house and I have become converted.) so as not to be late. Lady Mortimer, as The Great Betty so scathingly points out, is the widow of a wholesale textile manufacturer (shudder), which is supposed to disgust me but I'm a fan of meritocracy so can't be too fussed by self-made men who donate so much to charity that they become knighted. And wholesale cloth? I'd probably love to visit that store.
We find out that Francesca tolerates the pitiful wages and demanding conditions of work at Lady Mortimor's because of Lucy--her younger sister is still school-aged, out-spoken and helping a family of kittens live 'clandestinely in a big box under the table'. Francesca tells her sister about the man in the park. 'He thought it was funny, me falling over.' Her pride, while not excessive (Hasn't she spent two years sinking it and biting her tongue to afford a roof over her head?), is a little bruised.
She sees Doctor Renier Pitt-Colwyn (the man in the park and half-Dutch on his mother's side) again and admits to herself that when she doesn't see him she's looking for him. When he shows up at Lady Mortimor's for a consultation she is disappointed that he doesn't acknowledge their acquaintance in any way. Maybe he's distracted by the production Lady Mortimer is putting on for him: Artistic poses, smelling salts (that hoary convention!), and manufactured illness.
That night she confides in Lucy about her disappointment in him. 'Only I thought he was rather nice.' Not a dawning realization but close enough to ruffle the surface of her complacency. 'Maybe I should try night classes,' she mentions off-handedly--excuse enough for her sister to open up a Grade A Can of Butt-Kickery. 'Darling, you must be crazy--you mean sit for two hours learning Spanish or how to upholster a chair? I won't let you.' (Let us not pause to take a poll of Bettys who would be willing to have a few hours to themselves once a week for an education in furniture refurbishment. Few would concede the Indubitable Horror of Night Classes, I think.) The larger point is that Francesca has spent her twenties being a palace eunuch to an encroaching mushroom and wouldn't mind a little social life.
Well, she's not going to get it here.
Renier (whose name, despite the slightly different spelling, I am afraid will always connote Grimaldi chinless-ness) has other plans for her. He suggests that she come to work for the widow of his best friend. Eloise is an actress (Code Red! Code Red! Scramble the jets!) who must leave her small daughter, Peggy, while she tours with a theatre company.
When Francesca hands in her resignation to the deep-bosomed Lady Mortimor, it is truly a petty-minded highlight. 'You have ruined my day. Such ingratitude has cut me to the quick.' Francesca forebore from saying that, for someone of Lady Mortimor's ample, corseted figure, the cut would have to be really deep.
Peggy is a plain and shy child who offers our heroine all kinds of opportunities to show off her domestic skills. Renier catches her kneeling on the kitchen lino shooting marbles, casually toasting bread in the fire, and making bucket loads of tea. Peggy, it should be noted, doesn't miss her mother (a 'love the one you're with' gal if there ever was one) at all but she does miss her deceased father.
Renier, meanwhile, comes and goes as he likes and makes water-muddying visits to Eloise.
Lucy is just happy to be away from Lady Mortimor's and pines (quietly) for a skiing trip that her schoolmates are taking.
But none of this is actually driving the plot anywhere. It's as though The Venerable Neels had forgotten that at at 102 pages, she didn't have time to eddy around in The Mists of Exposition.
To that end, Peggy gets the chicken pox.
During her recovery, the doctor suggests that she travel to her paternal grandparents' house with Francesca and that Lucy board with her school for a week.
The country is lovely and restful and clearly Peggy is getting the love and attention she so desperately craves. 'Hmmm,' thinks Francesca, 'the natural solution to this pickle is to marry off Eloise to Renier.' I warn you that the reminder of this book comes off as an amicably settled custody dispute.
Renier, determined to marry Francesca, makes one more trip to visit Eloise. He also makes a visit to Lucy in London and takes her 'To the Ritz, no less!' 007 would call this little tea party a bit of First Class Reconnaissance.
And then we're back to the countryside to tell Francesca that he has arranged for Peggy to live with her grandparents (and a young nanny) permanently and also for Lucy (who LOVES boarding!) to go on that Swiss alpine adventure with her schoolmates. How officious. How high-handed.
She travels with him to Holland to see Lucy off and then realizes that she doesn't know what comes next. Is being trapped across the Channel with a handsome doctor merely a prelude of Brighton?! No. It's a prelude to proposals, kissing, and an unexpected visit to his mother.
The End

Rating: Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a noted fan of paint-by-numbers pictures. I appreciate their kitschy whimsy and bought a couple of them myself a few years ago(see right). They lovingly adorn the children's bathroom. But that's what they are. Children's bathroom art. The Proposal struck me as a bit of the same--safe, tidy, neat, nice and very between the lines. It always comes attached to another book because of it's length which is probably good as it doesn't represent the canon with vigorous bodacity--though the protagonists are wonderful people that you root for the whole time. Anyway, it is not to say that this book doesn't have it's high points. It does. And in a longer book all the space she wastes getting us from Room A to Room B wouldn't stick out so much. Making Sure of Sarah, a similarly short offering, is punchy and sweet and uses every inch of the pages allotted to it. And maybe comparisons really are odious as The Proposal wasn't all that bad...it just wasn't all that good. Treacle Tart for this one.


Food:McDonald's (I almost had a coronary when I read that!), crumpets dripping with butter, baked salmon with a pastry crust, Marmite, and chops that taste like sawdust in her mouth

Fashion: An elderly Burberry, Lady Mortimor's velvet housecoat with gossamer undies, an old but elegant brown jacket and skirt

25 comments:

  1. For a pub-owner's granddaughter, Betty was awfully sniffy about 'trade.' Is the social sin not in Lord Mortimor's profession, but his success at it? Hrmph.

    Democratically yours,
    Betty van den Betsy

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    1. I think his sin was not being in trade, but his not being a gentleman by birth. The butler's opinion says it all "Fortunately Crow was nice about it; he had a poor opinion of his mistress, the widow of a wholesale textile manufacturer who had given away enough money to be knighted, and he knew a lady born and bred when he saw Francesca"
      Betty Anonymous

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  2. Betty Barbara here--
    I just finished re-reading this and was once again struck by the poor pacing. I can well believe that Betty forgot she was to write a novella, not a full-length novel, when she started this. We are ambling along very nicely and then --wham! final 10 pages(and rather rushed pages at that)--Peggy sorted, Lucy sorted, totally unnecessary trip to Holland, proposal, kisses, HEA. Phew!
    Not one that I re-read with any frequency. Nor is it one that sticks in my memory without said memory being jogged by reading the blurb.

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    1. I wonder if she meant it to be a regular length novel and then The Estimable Betty had something come up--like an appendectomy or something. You're right. The pacing is what drags this one down.

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  3. Funny you should mention Kate and Leopold and Meg Ryan's face. Kate and Leopold was made in 2001, that's two YEARS before her alleged plastic surgery took place. Shows how little people know about her face!LOL!

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    1. Kate & Leopold - I watched the movie sometime last year for the first time. And I think Meg Ryan looked just fine in it. How old was she at the time the movie was shot, 39/40? Still gorgeous!
      Betty Anonymous

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    2. French Kiss-best Meg Ryan movie, best end of movie ever (being swept into his arms and kissed senseless in a vineyard in the south of France), with Jean Reno as an added bonus (sexiest voice and eyes, ever). I saw a clip of it on YouTube, I think, and I laughed because a girl had written "I've been waiting my whole life to be kissed like that". Awww, she sounded like she could be a hopelessly romantic TUJD nut like us. Or like me anyways.

      Betty von Susie

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    3. I thought French Kiss was the best! I agree BvS! I'm definately one of the nuts! But IMHO Meg was too old to play Kate. I agree she was still glamorous, but showing her age. It was a fun story but on the whole it didn't work for me.

      And just who is this person, Meg Ryan's fan club prez?
      Hmmm Betty antigossip2, what's your story?

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  5. All right, I was going to share an embarrassing moment from college when I noticed I misspelled the word embarrassed twice. How embarrassing, but worse, Betty Anonymous will surely whip out her red pen.

    So, Betty Debbie, your unfortunate college moment brought up a similar incident that will rival yours. On my way back to the dorm from class, I was trying to mount my bicycle when a hidden but strategic safety pin gave way at the back of my skirt, threatening to pool said skirt at my feet. There I was, with a heavy backpack on my back, holding onto the handle bars with my hands, and holding onto my skirt with my elbows. You can imagine my panic and embarrassment. Thanks be to God, a dear old lady (an angel?) came up behind me and offered to hold my bike while I "make the necessary adjustments." Her tone was kind and matter-of-fact, and she was tactful enough not to say anything else. A class act!

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  6. An Angel? No, probably Betty Neels the Time Lord! What a great story!

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  7. While you "make the necessary adjustments". That is so cool. A true lady.
    Betty Anonymous

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  8. What is the problem with night classes? Were they, in the 90s, full of undesirable elements such as persons engaged in trade and long-haired youths? Were they the hunting ground of desperate spinsters and caddish younger sons? Night classes seem entirely respectable and potentially enjoyable to me.

    Incidentally, I back Francesca up 100% on being leery of the prof here. A man who allows his ill-mannered mutt to knock people down in the park? We can't leash our brothers, but a person ought to be able to control his dog. And if he can't, he ought to apologize abundantly and humbly.

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    1. Betty Anonymous went to night classes in the 90s too. Not a single undesirable element in any of them.
      The other day I looked up a few more examples of night classes in Neelsdom to see how the Great Betty felt about them. ???

      Francesca went on briskly, 'I wonder if it would be a good idea to go to evening classes when they start next month?' Lucy looked at her in horror. 'Darling, you must be crazy—you mean sit for two hours learning Spanish or how to upholster a chair? I won’t let you. Don't you see the kind of people who go to evening classes are very likely like us— without friends and family? The Proposal, 1993

      She would get a chance to go to a needlework school—night classes, perhaps? Start a small arts and crafts shop on her own? The possibilities were endless. She got her supper presently, and went to work for the last time. The Mistletoe Kiss, 1997

      If she could make enough money to keep her going through the winter she could study at home and go to evening classes in Warminster, and then, armed with a diploma or two, get a secure job—typing, or being a receptionist, ... An Innocent Bride, 1999

      I might even join some kind of evening classes during the winter, thought Emma, and meet people...
      She spent Monday cleaning the cottage, shopping and hanging the wash in the little back yard, while her mother went to the library to ...Emma’s Wedding, 2001
      .

      The other day, I saw an aquaintance and his chow chow at one of the natural drinking water springs in the area. He wasn't there to get water, but the furious old lady who made futile efforts to shoo away the dog who was getting too close to her was. That man didn't make the slightest effort to call off his dog. He just stood there watching the little old lady who seemed close to exploding if not close to a heart attack. And then he said, 'You don't like animals and children, do you?' 'No!'
      Betty Anonymous

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  9. Sister Lucy, I resembled that remark. Professor Vue der Plane and I (newlyweds)took night classes in Spanish in 1979, getting ready to be sent by the Air Force to Spain! I didn't notice any spinsters trying to lure my PAA (poor american airman) into her clutches. There were a few long hairs. And I remember one sentence before I dropped out due to morning sickness which hit in the evenings cuz I worked Midnights. Pregúntale a Miercoles a donde vives? and the response was Soy de Chile Which has become an inside joke whenever one of us asks the other if they are cold, (sort a chilly). ho ho ho

    Did you notice the McDonalds was a frugal meal. Is that like a happy meals for poor spinsters? What's the toy? A RDD action figure?

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    1. RDD action figure, ha! Professor "flew the plane" reminds me of Count DeMonay in Blazing Saddles.
      Count da Money! Count da Money!

      Betty von Susie

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    2. Well, you may not see it that way but the food at McDonald's is not exactly cheap. So when I read frugal meal I thought that maybe they just had one of the smaller burgers + small order of fries + small soft drink or just a burger + soft drink. For the price of one of the cheapest burgers over here you could buy 1 kilo/2.2 pounds of dry spaghetti. Think of all the macaroni cheese Francesca could have made with that!
      Betty Anonymous

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    3. Er, make that spaghetti cheese.

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    4. Er, and you can get macaroni for the same price, of course.

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    5. Thanks for the chuckle BvSusie. I like the way you think. Although Prof. VderP never actually flew planes (first a crew chief, then a researcher) he did fly experimental drones for a while. And now flies RC planes for fun. When the kids were small they called him Plane Daddy! I got the Vue from his last few vehicles. But with Saturn gone that will change some day.

      I was JUST JOKING, Betty A! I kinda figured the same thing about the meal. If Betty Megan talks me into MickeyD's, I get two dollar McDoubles w/o the bun and then put it on a low carb skinny bun at home. I'm the frugalist non-spinster around. She gets the crispy chicken sandwich, in classic spoiled younger sister form.
      And yeah, I can get a pound of spaghetti here for a dollar, but I'd rather eat the burger.

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    6. And I don't know how it works out where you are, but on the east coast of the US today, cheese is one of the priciest items on my grocery list. And weren't Francesca and Lucy looking at Mickey D's as a frugal restaurant meal, more than a frugal meal in itself?

      More about Betty Kylene's servants' entrance, please!

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    7. My mac&cheese recipe calls for a 1/4 pound of cheese for 4-6 servings. That could be as little as 0.57-0.71 $US.
      The way I saw it Lucy liked to go to McDonald's and that is why they went there and they chose items from the menu that they could afford. They were poor.
      I don't know when McD came up with it over here, these days you can get a special deal (renamed a few years back and now called McMenü) if you take a burger + any two side orders (soft drink or mineral water/fries/salad). But that is still a lot of money for somebody who has to live on a tight budget like Francesca and Lucy.
      Betty Anonymous

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    8. Betty Mary, I always wondered about Professor Vue der Plane's name. How to pronounce it? Was he a pilot? Did he like to gaze at the plane tree in your front yard? Now I finally know. Thanks.
      Betty Anonymous

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  10. Ooops the use of the frugal word was in my deductive memory. Sorry ladies, here's the actual text -
    ...eating sparingly at McDonalds,... Unless they go to again after page 21 (Christmas Wishes Anth.)

    And the frugalist of us know that it's cheaper to by the store brand box of mac-n-cheese with the cheese powder. Not better tasting, but cheaper and still filling. Can't eat that way anymore.

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  11. The Proposal

    Sundays were wonderful days; once Bobo had been taken for his walk she was free, and even the walk was fun for Lucy went with her and they could talk. The little dog handed over to a grumpy Ethel, they had their breakfast and went out, to spend the rest of the morning and a good deal of the afternoon looking at the shops, choosing what they would buy if they had the money, eating sparingly at McDonald's and walking back in the late afternoon to tea in the little sittingroom and an evening by the gas fire with the cat and kittens in their box between them.

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