Well, once again, Ms. Drew and I cross paths long after my youthful infatuation with her antics has ended. This time, I was helping an old college proWell, once again, Ms. Drew and I cross paths long after my youthful infatuation with her antics has ended. This time, I was helping an old college professor of mine pack up her office when I discovered this particular Nancy mystery on her bookshelf. After teasing her about the literary merit of the Nancy Drew canon (she is an English professor), she told me I was welcome to take it if I wanted. After the stunning hilarity and outrageous racism of the last Nancy Drew book I re-read, I couldn't resist. What treasures would await me as I followed Nancy to the Lilac Inn? What early 60's societal norms would subtly be advocated for impressionable youths to follow?! Oh the suspense!
Sadly, the mystery in this book is not much more coherent than the last one I read about the pearl. Nor is it written better. It might as well be a Dick and Jane reader, the way sentences are so crudely constructed. Rest assured, no flowery descriptions clog up the working of the plot gears, and no large or obscure word is selected where a shorter one will do. And certainly, those tricky things like adverbs and other complex grammatical flairs make nary an appearance. Aren’t these books meant for teens?! Couldn’t we try something more advanced? I mean, I’m beginning to think that Carolyn Keene’s grasp on the English language was tenuous, at best.
Also to lament is that, as an early entry in the Nancy Drew series, her trusty sidekicks, Morbidly Obese Bess and Closeted Dyke George, are nowhere to be seen. Instead, we get Helen Corning, whose most notable attribute is her ability to do absolutely nothing for most of the book. One time, it actually says that she is lying on the Inn's patio reading. READING. The one time she does take action, she leaves her and Nancy's cabin late at night, despite being aware that their lives are in danger. In doing so, she leaves the deadbolt that was SPEDCIFICALLY INSTALLED TO PROTECT THEM UNLOCKED, which allows for someone to plant a LITERAL ticking time bomb (!) in the cabin that nearly blows them all up (thankfully, the ticking awakens Nancy and she escapes). Shortly after that, Helen is hit on the back of the head, but (sadly) survives. Way to go, Helen. I hope one day you can do absolutely fucking nothing to help me solve a mystery, and almost get us killed in the process.
Nancy’s other sidekick is the owner of the Lilac Inn, Emily Willoughby. Emily is, if anything, more useless than Helen, though she does give Nancy the mystery to work on. Weird happenings have been going on at the Inn, so she asks Nancy to help see what’s going on. In the beginning, this is fine. Nothing super dangerous or illegal has taken place; a waitress quit after claiming the Inn is haunted; a gardener falls into a hole that no one will claim to have dug and sprains his ankle in the process; and one night, Emily was awoken by music coming from the recreation room, but when she got there, NO ONE WAS THERE. So sure, let’s have Nancy look into prank like antics like these. What becomes ludicrous is that, shortly after Nancy arrives, someone steals $50,000 worth of diamonds from Emily. I don’t know what the inflation formula is, but I assume $50,000 worth of diamonds in 1961 would be a shit ton of money these days. But Emily flat out refuses to tell the police! Because if word gets out about the theft, no one will come to stay at the Inn! So she asks Nancy to solve things. Sure, why not put the resolution of a felony in the hands of a youthful civilian with pluck??
The rest of the cast ranges from completely forgettable to laughably one –sided and insane. There’s Mrs. Maud Potter, the social director (!) of the Inn, whose only qualification to be a social director appears to be her ability to play a guitar. She is consistently portrayed as an intolerable bitch, and you would think this would be a substantial impediment to doing a job where your sole responsibility is to facilitate congenial relations amongst guests. But no one ever says that perhaps her demeanor makes her incapable of fulfilling her job. Helen, in fact, comments that she can sing quite nicely, as if this absolves all of her other shortcomings. I liked Maud, though, because at least she is direct about her opinions, instead of being all fake pleasant like Nancy. Plus, Maud hilariously throws herself at Nancy’s father when he pops up. She tries flattery, calling him a “world famous” criminal lawyer, but apparently, flattery gets you nowhere with Carson Drew (“Carson Drew did not like flattery”), which isn’t really a surprise since the man is, if possible, even more sexually repressed than his daughter.
There’s also Emily’s Aunt, a woman whose characterization comes this close to that of a fragile, aging Southern Belle who constantly needs smelling salts to be revived after the latest shock to her system. She may also be a closeted lesbian with Maud. Then there’s the love interest, John McBride. He’s the best man to Emily’s fiancé, who very early on makes a pass at Nancy only to be told by Emily that he better back off because “Nancy – well, she’s mighty busy these days.” Oh Emily, you found happiness with Dick! Why can’t you let Nancy find happiness, too?! If there’s one thing I love about a Nancy Drew novel, it’s Carolyn Keene’s utter insistence on Nancy’s chastity, despite the fact that men are constantly throwing themselves at Nancy, and she’s obviously of age to begin a sexual relationship. What’s sad is that Emily’s excuse for why Nancy can’t date seems to have been taken as truth by Nancy herself, in the way that oppressive governmental regimes retain control over their citizens through hegemonic practices. Nancy closes the novel by saying that no men can be in her life right now because “for the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery!” The indoctrination is complete. Nancy truly believes that the only way she can pleasurably relieve her sexual urges is to sublimate them into solving mysteries. She is now a pawn of the government, ready to be deployed to solve all the mysteries River Heights has to offer, but never allowing herself to form a true emotional and physical connection with a man. How sad. And if anything, John seemed like a better match for Nancy than her later steady Ned. But alas, the closest they get to any sort of romantic dalliance is when they go skin diving together.
Which leads me to the worst aspect of the book. Namely, it’s utter lack of connection with reality. There are more fantastical elements in this book than a fucking Tolkien novel, and yet we’re supposed to treat everything as though it’s perfectly logical. Nancy, for instance, is a stellar skin diver, which the book never clearly says is scuba diving, but based on the amount of time she spends underwater, has to be. Now, this wouldn’t really be an issue except that Nancy doesn’t live by an ocean. She lives by a river. So yes, in the book, she goes scuba diving in a river. What? Better, while scuba diving with an underwater camera (those existed in the 60’s?), someone THROWS A SPEAR AT HER THAT LODGES IN THE CAMERA’S LENS!!!! An event Nancy, trained to be a crack detective who cares only about the answer and not herself, treats as though someone shot a Nerf dart at her.
Even more incredulously, the final part of the book revolves around a fucking SUBMARINE that is in the river! Let me repeat that. A SUBMARINE. IN A RIVER. I may be no genius, but unless that river is the mighty Missisip’, it seems unlikely to me that some sort of submarine could just troll around in its depths. The river itself is only 20 feet deep. Can subs even be used for depths that shallow? What if the river has a particularly sharp bend? Or shallow area? Was Carolyn just high as a kite, or three sheets to the wind?
The mystery at the Inn is also connected to a second mystery wherein someone has been impersonating Nancy in her hometown, even going so far as to rack up $2,000 of charges for clothing at the local department store (what a reprehensible being!). In the end, these two mysteries overlap. It turns out, one of the waitresses at the Inn is a former actress named Gay who was sent to jail for check forgery by Nancy’s handsome criminal lawyer father. Vowing revenge, she has returned and appropriated Nancy’s image to make the town believe their star citizen is a lying thief. What world are we living in? Superhero world? Where Clark Kent need only remove his glasses and don spandex and suddenly is unrecognizable to everyone?! The book says that Gay is a wiz with makeup, but unless she’s Rick fucking Baker, it seems unlikely to me that a little foundation and eyeliner could render you both unrecognizable as your former self and apparently identical to another person. At the end, Gay tries to fool Carson Drew into thinking she’s Nancy, so that the real Nancy will go to jail as a thief. But the real Nancy exposes her by “rubb[ing:] off some of the actress’s heavy make-up.” Um, unless that makeup was 4 inches thick, could you really fool someone’s father? I guess maybe if they’re as emotionally and physically distant with their daughter as Carson Drew is with Nancy.
Anyway, it also just so happened that Gay also used to work at the Lilac Inn, and overheard tell that Emily’s diamonds would soon be in play, and schemed to steal them. So Nancy’s impersonator is also caught behind the other mystery! Unfortunately, the diamonds sank to the bottom of the river when the boat they were on caught fire (ok), but thankfully, as we all know, Nancy is a crack skin diver, and rest assured, Emily’s precious jewels are returned to her before the novel ends. Then we find out that John was a secret agent for the military inspecting some sort of electronics theft. Then Nancy gets a military award.
Then I had a full on mental breakdown because I could no longer discern reality from fantasy. Thanks, Carolyn. Another gem of a novel....more
"Cold Mountain" was such an amazing work of literature, that pretty much anything Frazier followed up with was bound to suffer by comparison. But I th"Cold Mountain" was such an amazing work of literature, that pretty much anything Frazier followed up with was bound to suffer by comparison. But I think this book particularly fails to deliver on the promise of talent that Frazier showed in his first novel.
"Thirteen Moons" is the story of a man named Will. It is essentially his "autobiography," written as he is dying around the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century. The plot is linear, moving from Will's childhood to his old age. And Frazier has once again crafted a work of historical fiction, but the elements that made "Cold Mountain" such a success aren't present here.
I think there are two main flaws with the novel. The first is that every character in the book (in sharp contrast to those in "Cold Mountain") lacks depth or roundness; many feel poorly drawn out or inaccessable. Because of this, the book simply isn't interesting. The characters are never explicated fully enough to hold the reader's attention, which means that burden is shifted entirely to the plot, which subsequently fails at this task. The events in the book/the events in Will's life are, by and large, disappointingly average. Most of the novel centers around Will's attempts to keep his Native American friend/mentor Bear, and Bear's people, on their land. A fine subject for a novel, but one that fails to hold attention here because it's hard to grasp why Will finds this such an important task in his life (because Bear mentored him? Because he feels connected to the land and really wants it for himself? Other?).
Additionally, there's a romance between Will and a girl/woman named Claire that, unlike the romance in "Cold Mountain," never really seems real or fleshed out. Will spends his entire life pining for Claire, intermittently meeting up with her at different points in their lives; but their connection is never adequately described. To me, their teenage romance seemed just that; a teenage romance, nothing greater or more special. So for Will to mourn the rest of his life over the lack of Claire in it seems odd at best, and ludicrous at worst.
The second flaw is that in addition to the events and characters being flat and uninteresting, the writing style sadly mirrors the characters and events. Frazier, obviously a talented writer, seems here to have lost his ability to render prose in more than a wooden and stiff manner. There are some lovely passages in the book, to be sure; one in particular about the ways in which the river looks in each season of the year is beautiful. But for the most part, the writing style matches that of any regular person writing down their life story. Straightforward, with little embellishment. Toward the end, Will writes about his trips to Washington DC and his battles in Court, and all I could think was "BORING." Not just because of the subject matter, but because of the way in which it was written.
I think the book might have been ok if either flaw had existed solely by itself; good writing might have made up for uninteresting characters, or an interesting plot/well rounded characters might have made up for dull writing. But the combination of the two flaws is fatal. I hope that Frazier produces another novel on par with "Cold Mountain." This, sadly, is not even close. ...more