This time of year (right before school) always takes me back to my childhood. My August days during the late 1960's to mid 1970's were spent in the bean fields of the Willamette Valley - along with all the other kids I knew. It was a rite of passage...or something. What it actually was, was a way for parents to get rid of their kids who were totally bored by this point of summer vacation.
Betty Marcy and I were dropped off at a bean field in the morning and spent what felt like ALL DAY toiling in the hot hot sun...but which in reality was probably more like 4 to 6 hours spent doing as much slacking and socializing as the bosses would allow. Sure, some of the kids that came worked hard and made good(ish) money, but we were not amongst them. You could really tell we were not amongst them when the season ended and we picked up our meager earnings. Three or four weeks of work, 5 days a week (except for the occasional day off) and we made usually around 50 dollars.
This money was earmarked for School Clothes.
I know, I know...you younger Bettys are thinking that 50 dollars would go a long way back in 1970. I think it might have, but for some reason, it seemed that most of our money went to buy a coat. Not a windbreaker, not a hoodie, but a knee length coat - the kind that was appropriate to wear with a dress - because back in the 60's/early 70's, our school dress code mandated dresses for girls.
What does this have to do with this week's book, you ask?
Betty Marcy was always a struggling fashionista...she really wanted to be stylish. One year she earned enough money for a coat with a REAL FUR collar. Pretty sure it was rabbit. And that's what I always think of when I read this book.
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...|
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.
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.
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
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...|
He calls her to a committee room.
Lots and lots of kissing and a firm date to be married five days hence.
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.|
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 (mmmm...hospital 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.