Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Books I Done Stole: The Rebellion of Lil Carrington by Mrs. L.T. Meade

I obtained The Rebellion of Lil Carrington in Jacksonville, and it may be the only warm memory I actually have of that city. It's not only the oldest book in my stolen-books collection (copyright 1898), but it has the following startling inscription on the inside:

If you can't read that, it says, "Bought with the first money I earned May 15 --1914 Mabel Wilson."

I don't know how old Mabel was in 1914, but if she was a preteen or teenaged girl, goodness knows she could have done worse, because Lil is quite the entertaining spitfire. At the start of the book, 15-year-old Lil's loving father has just died, and it looks as though she and her sister Sybil will be obliged to live until they come of age with their Aunt Julia, who is an uptight drip. (Julia also has, in the tradition of all such stories, an equally uptight daughter named Janet who's a total momma's girl, dresses like a frump, and needs only a wild, free-spending week in London to loosen her up.) Lil is a passionate girl, as shown in this early quote, where Lil introduces Julia.

"How hateful she is!" said Lil. "If there is anyone in this wide world I cordially detest it is my respected aunt, and next to her comes my dear cousin Janet. Oh, as to Uncle Hammond, he is all right, of course; he will allow us to have pretty much our own way in the future. I mean to twist him around my little finger--I have always done so." In the very next scene, Janet comes into the room, and Lil bodily lifts her and shoves her out into the hallway, slams the door, then says to her sister, "Janet is well at the right side of the door at last. Now don't let us think of her again." (Poor Janet, for her part, did nothing to deserve this except show up.) Then we meet Aunt Julia and discover the problem: Aunt Julia wants the girls to wear drab clothing, plaited hair (no curling!), and to be quiet and deferential at all times. When they get a letter from Uncle Hammond, Lil asks, "What's in the letter? Tell us! We're dying to know!" and Julia says, in essence, "How impertinent you are! I am not accustomed to being addressed in such a manner! Leave the table at once and think about what you've done." I mean, really. If this is the kind of life girls were expected to lead, Lil is my kind of rebel.

Lil actually runs off to London on her own to see their solicitor, who cannot help (Dad's will was quite clear), and then she rests her hopes in Uncle Hammond, who--unfortunately--is about to get married and then move to India (he's with the military), so he can't have children at the moment. And just as it looks like they're going to be stuck with Aunt Julia, Lil sends an SOS letter to two American girls she met in Chicago some time back: Patience Potter and her sister A. Mamie P. Potter. This is where the story kicks in: Patience and Mamie decide to rescue Lil by putting on an act: They come to visit for the entire month of August. Mamie, who is all of sixteen (and the eldest) is extravagantly, scandalously fashionable, changing clothes six times a day and hinting at a terrifyingly liberal lifestyle. (She's actually engaged, but she is forbidden by Aunt Julia to mention her fiance to anyone.) And Patience plays the total kiss-up, kicking even obedient Janet out of first place in Julia's affections. She always sits next to Aunt Julia, goggles at even the simple things she does, and loudly expresses her wish that Aunt Julia should be her mother.

The whole point of this is to soften Julia up so she'll let the kids have a week in London. It works, and three things happen: Janet comes along and actually loosens up a bit; Patience finds that, in sucking up to Julia, she actually comes to like Julia more than she expected; and Lil actually stops antagonizing people so much, since she has Patience to do the dirty work, and Mamie is taking all the heat for being rebellious. It's a smart story, and would make a not-bad Disney movie if they were shooting for a remake; it's very Parent-Trap-y, only it has the advantage of being actually plausible.

The only problem is that the book sort of ends abruptly. After coming home from London, Aunt Julia asks them all to write essays about what they saw and did--Westminster Abbey, the Tower, the various museums--and they're screwed because they didn't see anything at all: they just flounced around London shopping and going on picnics. So at the climax of the story, they decide to confess...and that's the end of the story. I was expecting a second wackiness to ensue ("Let's all get our stories straight; Lil, you broke your ankle...") or for some surprising turn from Julia ("I knew you were lying all along, but I love a good story!"). But no. They decide to do the apparently decent thing and fess up, and that's where the story ends. We don't even see the confessions, much less get a reaction shot. According to Wikipedia, "Mrs. L.T. Meade" wrote over 300 books. This may be the sort of thing that happens when you write that many novels; you let plot elements fall where they may and say, "Oh, did that just suck? I guess I'll fix that in one of my next fifty plots."

One final note: This is one of those old books that has a frontispiece illustration. And it reminded me that I've never quite understood the thinking behind those. I would expect that such illustrations--the chance, at the very beginning, to provide the book with its only picture--would be an opportunity to show off the best drama, the most vibrant happenings, the most important dialog. Instead what we get is this:

It says, "'Leave it to me, and now, my dear, I want to go into the house.'--P.108"

I would have preferred an exchange something like this, from p. 145:

"What a very queer name--Patience Potter!" murmured Janet.

"Yes it is queer," said Lil, "and so she is still queerer. She is the most fascinating, delightful, out-of-the common sort of girl in the world. She's American to her backbone--she hails from Chicago."

"I don't think mother would like you to say the word 'hails,'" said Janet.

I take back my earlier defense of her; I'm starting to think that I'd shove Janet too.



Blogger Joe said...

A four block stretch in Lincoln Park and they pigeon-hole an entire city?

12/27/2007 9:48 AM  

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