Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trixie goes girly (for a good cause)

"I wish we could go just as we are. I never feel comfortable in anything but jeans. But I suppose I'll have to wear a dress today."
I hear you, Trixie. Comfortable is good. But for a wedding, don't you think you could try a little? We're not even looking for heels here, just something that will look good in the pictures.

The wedding in The Mystery Off Glen Road is that of the Wheelers' chauffeur Tom Delanoy and Celia the maid (who, unless I overlooked it, is never given a last name).

(By the way, I guess it was obvious that book 4 wasn't one of my favorites. This time you get a break from the ranting, though, because I'm a fan of this one. I'm sorry to disappoint anyone who was looking for another sociocultural diatribe. Anyway. Moving on.)

One of the great things about this book is how much time it spends on characterization. (Yes, even when Jim is defined as "one of those people who were so honorable that they leaned over backward to respect other people's rights even when it made no sense." Or when he "slid down the roof and, grasping the gutter for a second, swung himself to the ground... All of the boys were strong and supple, but Jim was the most athletic of them all. There really wasn't anything worth doing that Jim couldn't do - and do awfully well." What can I say? I'm in a good mood today, and feeling indulgent.)

Anyway, the character development includes some of the secondary characters too, like Honey's governess-estate manager-voice of sanity:
Miss Trask was the brisk kind of woman who, no matter what the occasion was, always wore tailored suits and sensible oxfords. She seldom wore a hat over her short gray hair and liked nothing better than to take long walks in the pouring rain, spurning an umbrella as something beneath her dignity.
She sounds like something out of Madeleine L'Engle, doesn't she? One of the quirky-but-wise grandparent-like characters, I think. I'd love to see someone make up Miss Trask's backstory.

Other great things about this book? The 1950s details. One of the illustrations - and if I found a copy online it would probably be one that's in violation of copyright laws, so just find a copy of the original or the Random House reissue - features Reagan the groom in his work clothes: puffed riding breeches and a hat that might be at home on Dudley Do-Right's head.

Also, the "no-school siren" is how they find out about their day off in the wake of a hurricane. No mass e-mails here! And country music is known as "hillbilly songs." And Brian's been saving up to buy himself a new car, one with the respectable price tag of $50.

(Side note: This series introduced me to the word jalopy. Unfortunately, it didn't come with a pronunciation guide, so when I was about 12 I spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out which syllable was the accented one.)

Anyway, Brian's jalopy is at the center of the story here. He's saved his $50, and he's all ready to buy the car from Mr. Lytell at the general store, but when the hurricane makes a mess of the Bob-White clubhouse, he wouldn't even dream of keeping the money for himself. (Because, in case it somehow slipped your mind, Brian and Jim are uber-honorable.)

So Trixie comes up with a plan to get the car for him:
"Mr. Lytell has promised Brian not to sell his jalopy to a dealer until next Saturday. Between then and now I've got to get the diamond ring so I can give it to him as security. The only way I can possibly convince Dad that I should have it is for me to go feminine all over the place. As you pointed out, I can't do that suddenly, so between now and Friday I've got to do it by degrees. Mart, to repeat myself, is going to be suspicious until the very end, so I've got to fool him first. Do I make myself clear?"
Just in case she didn't, here's the plan: Trixie uses the diamond ring Jim gave her in the first book, currently reposing in the family safe deposit box, as security, while the Bob-Whites fill in as temporary gamekeepers on the Wheeler estate and earn the money to redeem both the ring and the car. To justify her new fondness for jewelry, Trixie pretends to be crushing on Honey's cousin Ben, who's about to spend the week in Westchester. Any questions?

No, it doesn't make sense. But neither do screwball comedy plots, and we still love them.

She makes her first girled-up appearance at dinner one night:
It was agony, but Trixie somehow did it. She appeared at dinner that evening wearing a red-and-white dotted-swiss Nylon frock, white socks, and black patent leather slippers. She had brushed and dampened her blond curls so they looked almost as neat as thought they had been set by a beauty parlor expert. She had also helped herself to her mother's hand lotion and toilet water.

The whole thing had been such an effort that she found she couldn't walk naturally...

Nobody said a word for a long minute. Then, as though they, too, were controlled by strings, Trixie's father and older brothers all simultaneously took large sips from their water tumblers...

Mart uttered a sound which was identical with the yelp which Reddy emitted whenever Bobby accidentally stepped on his tail.
See, you can tell I'm in a good mood because I'm not even complaining about the construction "identical with."

Next comes the ask, as fundraisers say:
"The point is," she said sweetly, "since I haven't got a seed pearl necklace, I simply must have the diamond ring that Jim gave me. Please, Dad, won't you get it out of the bank? I mean, Ben is the sophisticated type of boy who expects his date to be at least dressed." She turned to her mother. "Honestly, Moms, I feel positively naked in this dress without any jewelry."
As in all screwball comedies, the artificial crush wouldn't be any fun if Trixie and Ben actually liked each other.
"Don't worry... He doesn't like you any more than you like him, so when you swoon around and act as though you were crazy about him, he probably won't even notice."
Honey gets a rare display of intelligence: "The bi in bicycle means that it has two wheels. I think it's Greek, like Phi Beta Kappa."

Which prompts Trixie to speculate on the likelihood of her joining that group:
"Even if I do get better marks in math so I graduate from high school and go to college, no one's ever going to give me a Phi Beta Kappa key."

"Oh, I don't know," Honey said cheerfully. "Jim is sure to get one. He'll give you his."
Because Jim, even though he won't come out and say it, has a thing for Trixie.
"Oh, my goodness," [Honey] cried exasperatedly. "Can't you leave her alone? Don't you know that her heart is broken and all because Ben is so crazy about Di?"

"So that's it." Jim abruptly left the stable.
Me, I'll take Mart over Jim-the-greatest-of-them-all.
"I have no intention of galloping or Sherlocking. I will simply provide Trixie with a few facts about snares and traps and such. Thus, if she doesn't fall into them, she will be able to recognize same."
Consider this your spoiler alert. From the book's last page:
"What's all this about a ring?" Ben interrupted. "It sounds as though you two were engaged or something."

Trixie sniffed. "If Jim were the last man on earth I wouldn't marry him."

"Is that so?" Jim gave her a gentle push and Trixie found herself sitting in the snowbank with Di...

"Do you think I'd get myself engaged to anybody as dumb as that?" Jim asked Ben...

Jim relented then and helped Trixie to her feet. "On you," he said, "snow looks good. You should wear it more frequently. Especially on your eyelashes. Much more becoming than mascara."
All together now: Awwwwwww.

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