Monday, December 6, 2010

The Edge of Winter--1976

I was fifty pages into this book before I realized which one it was. My heart, sailing gaily along, wafted on the updrafts of delightful banter and sizzling chemistry, thudded to the pit of my stomach. Ugh. This is the one with the worst ending in Neelsdom.

Araminta Shaw, 25, is, like any good Lorelei, hailing sailors to a watery doom. Having found a lost child at the ocean's edge, she splints a broken leg, dismisses the possibility of cliff-climbing with all that dead weight on her back and looks through the darkening night for help.
Professor Crispin Van Sibbelt, nudging 40, points his little rubber dinghy inland and fetches up before her. 'You silly little fool. Don't you know those cliffs are dangerous?'
Scathing remarks follow acid-laced observations as they maneuver the little girl aboard his yacht and our heroine (who did, after all, follow first aid protocols with ingenuity) is grinding her teeth. Araminta wonders, who put his knickers in such a bunch?
Araminta returns to her nursing job (she was on a very dreary-sounding vacation with auntie and father--the kind of death-to-a-social-life lolling at the inn vacation) and opens the door of her modest semi-basement flat to the vast and handsome yacht-owner. Having a yacht is not its own calling-card for respectability, evidently, and she only draws the chain back when she is reassured that he was sent by her auntie. 'I wanted to see you again.'
Thereafter, he pops in and out of her life, bringing delicious food, a persistent manner (a must since she constantly tells him she's not sure she likes him very much (in much the same way as a 12-year-old girl, when asked if she liked a certain classmate, would blush furiously, swear she didn't like him and wish him death for good measure)) and offers of help around the house.
This is, by far, the best part of the book with little moments that make you laugh aloud. He is sort of pursuing her and she is sort of resisting. ...she told herself that she couldn't bear him at any price--she would make that quite clear the next time they met.
Araminta is asked to nurse her Cousin Thomas' failing wife Holland. So, she hies off to Amsterdam and lands herself in a domestic imbroglio. Thomas is a pinchpenny who can barely rouse enough feeling for his dying wife beyond a niggling suspicion that all this is costing him money. Thelma is a dear and set to die anytime from incurable leukemia. She is relieved that Araminta is there so that she can die in peace instead of being asked about the laundry status. And if it takes crossing swords with Thomas every stinking day, Araminta is going to see that things are different for Thelma. Champangne, new dresses, enticing eats...the lot. Thomas turns puce at the expense. (Though, to be fair, he sounds like someone with a liver complaint.)
Naturally, Crispin is the specialist who sees Thelma.
Thelma dies.
Crispin, not one to waste any opportunity, whisks Araminta away from her pre-funeral housekeeping as often as possible and, at one point, brings her back to his home to spend the night.
Never fear! He has a chaperon! Tante Maybella! (Are all these exclamation points convincing you that she is a good idea? Me neither.) Ah, the good Tante. She's all my least favorite feminine affectations wadded into a cozy knit cardigan. Sweet, high-voiced, doll-like, back-biting, vicious...Crispin seems oblivious that Tante Maybella (who has TWO homes of her own that she doesn't want to live in--TWO!) is leaking toxic waste all over Araminta like a rusty 70s era industrial drum.
But, despite the prospect of infelicitous in-law relations, Araminta tosses her bonnet over the windmill for Crispin. He would probably be a difficult husband, but she saw no reason why she couldn't manage him. Oh, I quite like her.
But back to Tante Maybella. Crispin notices some chilliness but offers the pointless (if interesting) bromide: She can't help but love you in time, but she has to get used to you--the idea of you. Kiss!
Before heading back to England, Crispin makes some not-so-very-vague suggestions about a possible joint merger of their assets. 'Don't say anything. When you're back in England, whatever you feel now, you will probably forget me.'
Editorial Note: Okay, I take considerable issue with this. He does this cheesy boy band ballad thing (I'm imagining Boyz II Men: 'Baby, baby, hush now. You and me, girl, don't need to talk...') a few times and implies that she's a 'green girl'. Um, Professor, she's a babe. Moreover, she has probably been chatted up by every houseman, registrar, junior banker, bachelor clergyman and married anesthesiologist within fifty miles. If she's prepared to say that she loves you, shut-up, gracefully accept and then get down on your knees and thank the good Lord for your blessings.
Crispin sends her roses with a message that needs the decoder ring treatment. (What does it all mean?)
She is asked to attend a friend's engagement party. While dolled up and waiting in the hospital lobby with her ride (her young male ride), Crispin stalks in. Words are flung, naked jealousy is displayed, love's young dream is crushed.
So she quits.
Oh my heck this is so satisfying. Crispin is totally in the wrong here and she's just ripped up her mortgage papers and tossed the lighted match into the dining room. And then he's back (to her father's house this time) for a full-fledged, honest to goodness grovel. (Enjoy the delicacy. La Neels is famously parsimonious with them.)
He asks her to come back to Holland to stay with him and get to know him and, '...hush, baby, I don't want to know what your feelings are...' Okay I made that last bit up...a teeny bit.
She stays with Crispin and Tante Maybella and Tante Maybella's 'naked fear' (so awkward when people don't wear a towel to the loo...). And then one day, Tante Maybella (whose very name is beginning to drive me around the bend) tells Araminta that she's so 'suitable'. Picture a five-year-old at a birthday party with a handful of balloons. Now picture someone popping them all. That's pretty much Tante Maybella. A Balloon Popper.
Not done with her evil machinations, Tante goes on to tell Araminta that she's so much more suitable than Nelissa (whose name sounds both flat-chested and made up) whom Crispin really loves and would marry but for his awkward engagement (oh, yeah, they got engaged in there) with Araminta.
Of course she bolts.
She takes barely any money, no passport and has no destination. She tries hitchhiking but is too well dressed. Crispin finds her curled up in the stairwell of a tiny roadside stone castle (Visit Amazing Europe!) and pours his anxiety/anger/confusion on her head. To which she replies with inspired aplomb:
"Don't you swear your beastly Dutch oaths at me!"
And there she is--from affianced wife of well-off physician to hot ghetto mess all in one easy day. He drags her home (after much 'No, baby, we'll talk after dinner/breakfast/bath/lunch'-ness) and gets Tante Maybella in the same room. And then, to steal a quote from the Iron Lady, it all goes wobbly. Here's why I hate it:
  • He never did say he loved her and should have.
  • Tante Maybella never capitulates until she gets lifelong residence under their roof (remember she has two others of her own), the satisfaction of teaching Araminta 'household management' and about all the treasures of the old house. (At this rate, Araminta will be lucky to consider herself a long-term guest in her own home.)
  • Araminta has to cast aside the venom that drove her to run away from Crispin and offer instant forgiveness and reassurance.
Anyway, by this time, I'm disgruntled and ready to bean him over the head. But he's got a special license and I guess they can go off and live happily ever after with the cankerous old woman.
The End

Rating: I really, really enjoyed this book before Araminta's dawning realization. She loathes Crispin but, as she glowers at his retreating back, she is probably checking out his bum. Their interplay is excellent and it crackles with energy (death surrounding her, notwithstanding!). And then she realizes that she loves him and a little wind is taken out of the sails (not much wind but all that 'Baby, baby, please don't say anything' stuff is a little dampening). And then there's the sticky bit at the end. Ugh. The end. It wasn't quite as uniformly bad as I remembered: The Great Betty makes running away interesting and funny and tragic all at once so I can't quibble with the writing.
But the last four pages...(shudder)...In a just world, that old lady would have been kicked out on her ear and probably incarcerated in a Home for the Criminally Insane. Seriously. Would you let that woman near your children?
So, though I hate giving mixed reviews, the beginning and middle (and most of the end) earn a boeuf en croute for me, while the last two pages are the thin gruel of tinned soup--probably that succotash tin in the back of your pantry that's been sitting there for ages. The lima beans have probably turned gray and there are little floaty bits of fat...
But if you can mentally write a satisfactory conversation that can make living with a psychopath okay ('Darling, she's got an incurable brain tumor and will be gone by morning anyway...') then this book is well worth your time.

Food: Shrimp bisque, lemon chicken, crisps, artichoke salad, kaas broodje, french onion soup, poached turbot with lobster sauce, Charlotte Russe (the sound of which makes me think of Russian ballerina tartlets for whatever reason), roast beef, baked potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and sprouts. When she runs away her best meal is chips from a paper bag and because the last of her change is bumped from her hand (into the watery deep) she is denied a roll. Brandy warms her up (a myth?) and she eats echte soup and gehakt balletjes on the way to his home again. The servants (possibly saying 'I'm sorry the old bat almost drove you to your death') make vacherin, her favorite dessert.

Fashion: Russet brown suit, Thelma buys a last dress (blue) before she pops off, Araminta buys a russet velvet pinafore dress with a chiffon blouse, a very promising high-necked dark honey crepe with tiny pleats that sounds a beast to dry clean (I have four years experience working in a dry clean/laundry and know whereof I speak), a sage green silk jersey with yet another chiffon bow beneath her chin, and a blue velvet evening gown which sounds a dream to wear.


  1. Betty Barbara here--
    My, My Betty Keira--a little harsh on Tante Maybella, aren't you? I read her totally differently. Yes, she has two other houses, but she would be all alone in them, fearing that the family (what little there is of it)would ignore her or forget about her. At least staying with Crispin she is guaranteed of company. Her fear(and it is genuine fear, not spite)of Araminta is mis-placed. Actually, she had plenty of time to get to know our Araminta and realize that she is NOT the kind of girl to kick Aging Aunties to the kerb--so her final Nelissa bit was uncalled for, and rather pathetic and smacking of desperation. You seem to see a Machiavellian schemer and I see a frightened little old lady. Araminta is the one who makes the (to my mind)face-saving remark about showing her how to run a big house, not Auntie Maybella.
    I am,like you, upset with Araminta's diminishing backbone--sheesh! Why run off when you can have a flaming row?!? She was not loathe to confront him in the beginning of the book, why so meek at the end? And why oh why do some of Betty's heroines seem to lose all their functioning grey cells and decide to run away? I say she deserved to huddle in a doorway, in the miserable weather as the price for Not Thinking!
    But on other points I agree--Crispin is not blameless, oh no no. He is needlessly cryptic most of the time and woefully deficient in the "I Love You" department there toward the end--the idiot.
    I will keep the book for the Beastly Dutch Oaths line, but it is not high on my re-read list.
    But overall, I give it Madeira Cake.

    And you never even touched on the fact that here we have a non-Araminta named Araminta-
    This Araminta is blonde and beautiful!

  2. I can't let Auntie off at all. Crispin has siblings she could visit and it isn't his responsibility to be her cruise director for the rest of her life. (Though I can't imagine an RDD ignoring any aged relative and letting them dwindle into obscurity at all.)

    She wades in to Araminta too happily for my peace of mind. ('You made it so easy...')

    Anyway, with poisonous auntie around, now we know how he got to 40 without getting married...

  3. Betty Barbara here--
    Well, that's what I get for re-reading this late at night--
    I was wrong about who suggested that Auntie Dearest could show Araminta around the house--it wasn't Araminta, in a face-saving, charitable gesture (my memory), it was Crispin the Cryptic, being masterly. Okay, I withdraw some of my objections.

  4. And I could have even reconciled myself to Auntie (not loved her but, hey, the house IS huge) if all the forgiveness/disclosures hadn't happened so publicly and quickly. Araminta is expected to have to do all the work when she was the most ill-used. That's my primary objection.

  5. Maybe the old lady dies before they have children?

  6. I don't disagree about Tante Maybella (what, no picture of Anjelica Huston as Maerose Prizzi? or maybe Marbella Spain?) but it just didn't bother me. I love the image of Araminta rushing out of the house so distracted that she doesn't take enough money. I actually like the ending to this one better than the ending where the heroine KNOWS her RDD husband-of-convenience will go rushing off after her so she stays at home. That's far too rational.

    And honestly? I'm hoping Araminta & Tante M. get along like a house afire, so to speak. Because the reality of a Betty Neels HEA is that the heroine is spared the job of being a nurse but until that first little bundle of Implied Marital Relations comes along, what does she have to keep her busy? No wonder they're always buying yarn and starting a sweater...

    I wish I could remember what these books felt like when I was younger than the heroine (instead of now, when I'm a lot older than the one can say of me, "Oh, but that's not even middle-aged!"). I understand Crispin's anxiety a lot better now -- he *is* a lot older, and what if she cries off? How hideous.

    I think I liked this one better this time around.

    Two things, though -- anyone else notice that Thomas's mother (Araminta's dad's "favorite sister") must have married a Mr. Shaw so that Araminta and Thomas ended up with the same surname?

    And doesn't it look like Bern Smith (artist who did the cover on this one) used Cheryl Tiegs as his muse?

    1. Dear Betty Magdalen, please say you did not mean it. You "actually like the ending to this one better than the ending where the heroine KNOWS her RDD husband-of-convenience will go rushing off after her so she stays at home." — Betty A. reaching for her smelling salts — That's Caroline's Waterloo!

    2. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I don't much like Caroline's Waterloo. And it's the ending I don't like-- well, among other things. I actually don't much like their relationship in general. Mind you, I vastly prefer them as a couple to Waldo & whatsername in End of the Rainbow. There's a line for me as to what's nice and not-nice RDD behavior. Waldo is on the far, far side of not-nice. But, that's just me, and other people's mileage may (and does) vary. As Betty Ross puts it: All part of life's rich pageant.

    3. Betty A. reaching for her beautifully laundered hanky – to mop up after you burst her bubble.
      All part of life's rich pageant. — What a nice way of putting it. Caroline's Waterloo is one of my absolute favourites and Radinck is one my top favourites.

    4. Rad-rinky-dink is a jerk. By beautifully laundered hanky you do mean wadded up paper towel stuffed between the couch cushions, right?

      B von S

    5. Hey, now, careful who you start calling names! huff No, by beautifully laundered hanky I did mean a snowy white linen (read: beautifully patterned cotton) handkerchief. The only things you will find stuffed between the couch cushions would be my mom's dog's buffalo hide sticks, pig ears or dog bicuits (homemade).

  7. Betty Barbara here--
    Yes, Cheryl Tiegs and our cover Crispin looks suspiciously like Elliot Gould! (It is the hair coloring that does it.)

    1. No RDD would EVER have as much body hair as Elliot Gould (shiver).

      B von S

  8. Oh no, not Elliott Gould?!?

    Okay, this is the story that always gets me confused about TUJD's use of the term "Araminta"--since it is one of my favorite books, I can never keep the heroine type straight.

    Tante M has never bothered me a bit--nor does the ending. Crispin does not hold advanced degrees in interpersonal communications and it shows. He does, however, oooze (perhaps more than any other RDD) ooh la la. (I think the whole book has some serious chem-i-stry going on.) His indulgence toward Tante M bodes well for his other adored female in the future.

    As for his other siblings taking up the slack, have I mentioned that my 78-year-old mother spent Thanksgiving alone? I live thousands of miles away--not so my three siblings--(no worries for Christmas I have already bought her plane ticket). I think he can afford a mother-in-law suite for the little old toot.

    I have already gone on record on the magnificent beastly Dutch oaths line--how did Bartlett's miss this one?

  9. I liked this one.
    Thomas was such a terrible husband/cousin and I thought that Crispin's apology was such a treat. He was obviously head over heels from the beginning, and I like that. I thought that Araminta running away was so ridiculous yet entertaining. I loved how the "shoes" were in play and she couldn't run away without shoes.

    Tante Maybella wouldn't get to stay at my house but I don't think it ridiculous that Crispin and Araminta decide to keep her on. Did she get off a little light? Yes.

    Solid Boeuf en Croute

  10. Yeah, Betty Kylene--one of my favorites.

  11. Maybe it's spelled "Yay, Betty Kylene"? "Yea, Betty Kylene!"? Okay, how about "Hurrah, Betty Kylene!"?

  12. OK, so I used my feast day to read this one... I was so excited to find one I had not read lying around. I'm with you ladies who like it. I lived with my Mother-in-law for 15 years. Great great relationship, and yes, she DID teach me a lot about household management. I have also seen lots of elders cast off by their children, and and aunt has even less natural claim on a nephew. Of course she is terrified of Crispin getting married, and, because he suffers from RDD miscommunication disease, he's assuming all will be well between them, and doing very little to be reassuring. So yep, I can see Tante losing it a bit and saying something she'll regret. Whether you cut her slack or not depends almost entirely on how you read her high, sweet voice in the beginning. Is she sincere, or faking being sweet. I'll take sincere for 500, Alex. :-) I enjoyed the book, especially the beginning. I also think he's right about bringing her back and courting her at least for awhile, before proposing. It rings more true to life.

  13. RDD miscommunication disease


    I can hear Jerry Lewis now: "Won't you contribute now to prevent this tragic disease? Research into the causes and treatments of RDDMD is getting us closer every day to a CURE!"

  14. Well, you know, Tante Maybella could possibly go be a housekeeper for the loathesome Thomas and the equally loathesome Bertram. Wow! Imagine those three in the same household!

  15. I think this seems like two stories stitched together - the first has the very, very realistic death of Thelma (perhaps TGB had known such a horrible case?) and the second the problem of Tante M. This would explain why Crispin, already head over heels in love, has to put the brakes on from about half way through.

    Also isn't his first appearance so well done that everything else is a bit of an anti-climax???

  16. This one has always been one of my "Down among the dead men". Just imagine living with TM as a young just married woman!!!!!

  17. Crispin is the RDD who told Araminta ‘But I have no wife and as far as I know, no children.’ was he being cheeky or totally frank?!

    I cannot imagine ever being mistress of the house with Tante Maybella in residence. Crispin would be the kind of husband who'd tell the wife, she's a poor old dear, just give in to her, who knows how long more she'll live yadayada...It's a no-win if ever Tante played her games again...

    Betty Vivi

  18. There are TGB books that bug me because I really want to see the evil one get her comeuppance, and this is one of them. In this case, she’s an old lady (probably younger then I) and couldn’t take a telling off like she deserves. I hope Araminta finds a senior center Tante Marbella can spend her days in.

  19. I love your comment. Mainly the part about the senior centre. I have to feel sorry for the other attendees, though!

  20. This started promisingly and then just fell apart. It was if the book was started and then discarded for a period of time as a genesis for a subsequent book took hold and when returned to the spirit of Araminta could not quite be recaptured.

    We could not suspend our belief that a competent ER nurse would react so irrationally over the revelation that her much older finance had loved another. It would have been more believable if she coolly packed her bags and returned to to England angry that her intended was keeping his past secret.

    The more we think about this book, the creepier it becomes. Rightly or wrongly, we were left with the impression that Araminta has found herself in a horror of an oversized doll-house waiting for her to provide it with six perfect children.

    Araminta has a lifetime of gaslighting ahead of her between her husband and aunt. Horrid ending. Poor Aramina. Too bad James back in England was already engaged to another.