Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Come Blossom Time, My Love--1961

*reads description of heroine with light
brown and curling hair...checks cover...
reads description again...*
Jeannie Fraser (22) is a typist by day and Cinderella by night. Like any good Cinderella, she comes with an evil step-parent (Miserly Bertram Skimmington who owns a pickle cannery!) and two siblings--Peter (14), who dreams of owning a sport coat, and Teresa (9), who writes revenge poetry.

One day, Jeannie gets a letter from her dead-fairy-godmother bequeathing her an orchard in Central Otago. And it is about time! Peter is on the verge of step-patricide, Teresa has the sort of cough that carries off operatic sopranos to have romantic on-stage deaths and Jeannie has eaten enough 'hateful, horrible tapioca' to last her a lifetime.

Jeannie couldn't take another night of pudding.
(Giphy)
So she kidnaps the children and disappears. Yes. You read that right. She lays a false trail, buys new clothes, registers under fake names...It only wants aviator glasses and trench coats to be more thrilling.

When she makes it to her new estate, she walks bang into the path of her new manager. And, quelle horreur, THEY KNOW EACH OTHER. Ahem. Back in Auckland, Jeannie caught him in a torrid embrace with her noble boss's Very Young Wife.

Jeannie is ready to go off-grid like a doomsday prepper, and is horrified to think that she could be tracked down if her manager talks. For his part, Fergus MacGregor is still furious about the Puritanical self-righteousness she exhibited when she walked in on him committing a Class C Human Resources Violation in the boss's office.

Jeannie thought that his melting brown eyes bumped it up to a Class B.
(Giphy)
And so they square off for The Great Patriotic War of Mutual Misunderstanding. Of course the children adore him. Children cannot be trusted to hold a grudge when you really need them to. Living on the same land doesn't help her either. Their proximity to one another means that little bits of correct information get shaken loose like sheetrock dust raining into a basement apartment. He notices that she is careful not to spend too much of the inheritance. She admires how he looks after his elderly uncle. She is quick to pitch in on the harvest. He's been trained as an accountant.

And if it all looks like they're headed south on the gentle wheelchair ramp to Sensible Conjugal Bed-flannels, never fear. Neville is here. He's a local sheep buyer and I cannot imagine Essie Summers writing him without the hugest grin on her face. He is an unapologetic scoundrel and gets all the best lines.

"No good getting mad with me. Just forget it.
I'm quite unsnubbable."

(Giphy)
He is NOT, marriage material. When he asks her out, Fergus arranges to come and watch the children, bringing a game of Monopoly under his arm and some bottles of pop. (Does he hope Teresa will blab family secrets? The lime-fizz can't hurt.) Now Jeannie has no excuse to hide herself away. Soon she discovers that Neville has an unfortunate family connection: Cecily. The Young Wife. The Torrid Affair-er. A woman who knows Jeannie disappeared and has good reason to hate her.

Over time, Jeannie hates thinking of that overcharged moment in her boss's office, even more than she used to. Fergus is fighting his own attraction for a woman who doesn't trust him. When he kisses her, he says, using insult like a suit of armor, "Neville will teach you if I don't." A girl cannot take that sort of thing lying down. She retorts, with a sort of malicious sting, that it's been pleasant to learn from Neville. But then she trips all over her dawning realization.

The next time they kiss, it's for a better reason: wanting to. Too bad it's the night that Cecily, like a taco combination plate, returns. Thereafter, the emotional landscape becomes inflamed and feverish. No. Wait. That's her appendix. It bursts on the way to the hospital. Though they have just had ANOTHER fight, Fergus lies and says he's her fiance.

Editorial Hectoring: Look, Fergus. I might have thought twice before adding another layer to the constraint and complication already so abundant in your relationship. But what do I know? I've only been married for twenty glory-filled years. 
The More You Know.........
(Giphy)
When she is recovered enough to be interviewed by the Press, word leaks out that they are engaged. "I'll be termed an opportunist," he says, reading the item he helped to plant. His bright eyes are on hers, waiting... When she calls the idea ridiculous, he breathes easy. It won't matter to her that he has nothing but a modest bank balance and a decent car.

When the engagement becomes known, they are forced into acting out the charade. But not in private, Fergus. "You know I'm a bounder," he replies. "You knew it from the start." He might allow his lips to twist cynically but they are too busy rearranging themselves over HERS.

Later, Fergus confesses to having spent three month in prison on a charge of drunk driving. (That's why he's always pounding lime-fizz.) Jeannie's faith in him finally makes him tee up his pride, whacking it with the 3 iron for a long bomb down the fairway. May it be forever lost in the rough or eaten by an alligator.

Then, Cecily's husband, The Noble Boss, dies.

ROLL CALL! We have:
Cinderella, Who is On the Lamb and Pathetically Pleased with her Sham Engagement
A Chiseled Jaw With a Mysterious Past and an Unspoken Passion for the Girl Who Wears His Ring
and
The Well-looking Widow


Bad-Girl Guidebook, Rule #4: If you can't BE good, have good lipstick.
(Giphy)

The end comes when Cecily tries to blackmail Jeannie with the knowledge of how she left Auckland. Frightened for her brother and sister, Jeannie duly breaks off her engagement and Fergus gathers them all in Cecily's drawing room like Miss Marple, cracking the case at the end of the who-done-it. There will be no more things left unsaid and he addresses the DUI first. It was Cecily who was drunk and grabbed the wheel. He sold his accountancy practice to pay for her reconstructive surgery. But, all in all, he will be a decent marriage risk. (Which Jeannie had already sorted out for herself.)

Jeannie unburdens herself about the Tyrannical Pickle Man and finds out that he DIED the day she left Auckland! Cecily, the lying snake, kept that info back. Oh, and she threw herself into his arms, that day in the boss's office.

It's all over but the shouting...er, kissing. There is a LOT of kissing.

Rating: 6/10 Fire at the drapers. I have a lot more affection for this book than that rating suggests. It's kind of an outlier for The Summers Canon since the hero is an orchardist with a past. There is a smashing secondary love-story for a later-in-life couple. I also love that Jeannie has a really good reason (two actually--Peter and Teresa) to stay quiet about why she left Auckland. So it's not just pride keeping the plot going. But I wanted the main characters to have more fun together--to see that they would be a great couple--and, though I generally love the bits of poetry Essie Summers sticks into her books, these were not well integrated. Ultimately, I find that the parts hang together awkwardly. Still, it's a sweet book and I really love the way that the hero really has a serious set-back that impacts his marriageability.

The Misunderstanding: She thinks he's chasing a married woman. He thinks she is a snob who refuses to mix with the rural community.

Location: Strathlachan, an orchard near Corriefield, not far from Dunedin in Central Otago.

Other locations mentioned: Fiji, Auckland, the Roxburgh Hydro, the Leviathan (a hotel in Dunedin), the drive (also in Dunedin) through the Octogon, down Princes St and to the Burns statue, First Church on Bell Hill