Stephanie's Reviews > Beany Malone

Beany Malone by Lenora Mattingly Weber
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Sep 13, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: favorites, goodgirls
Recommended for: mop squeezers with martyr complexes
Read in January, 2003

In the past, I've used this site to promote my all-time favorite books...hence all the five-star reviews on my list. BEANY MALONE is the first book I've listed that rates fewer stars. Although it's still dear to my heart, this story (and the entire series to which it belongs) has one major flaw: it was written by a sadist.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lenora Mattingly Weber is a fine writer. She's not as poetic as Maud Hart Lovelace nor as soulful as L.M. Montgomery, but her fiction has a lot of heart. I particularly like the chaotic Malone household, where somebody is always cooking, typing, or shouting on the telephone. It's like something out of a Howard Hawks movie.

BUT. And this is a big but. Whattup with the author's penchant for ridiculing her main character's dreams and desires? No matter what Beany does, Mattingly sets her up for failure. Not because failing is part of the growing process (goodness knows, Betsy Ray lost that frigging essay contest often enough for her to gain some perspective, while Anne Shirley was constantly forced to protect her dreamy ways from hard-bitten, cynical relatives.) No, Mattingly seems to punish Beany not as a means to help her grow, but as a way to quash her frivolity.

I mean, sheesh, if Elizabeth can be a knockout and Mary Fred can get a horse and Johnny can become a journalist, why can't Beany redecorate her bedroom, fix up the basement or choose a satin wedding gown without her creator raking her over hot coals for being a wanton hedonist? Time and time again, Mattingly crafts novels in which Beany is forced to admit that her desire for beauty and success is stupid, stupid, stupid.

The author even scolds her heroine for feeling resentment toward her new stepmother...a perfectly normal reaction in any blended family. Instead of allowing Beany to mourn the loss of her place as the nurturing mother figure in the Malone household, her siblings and father turn on her for being a selfish pig. If I were Beany in that situation, I would have laced my next batch of peppermint stick ice cream with a liberal dose of arsenic and told my relatives to go to hell as they writhed in agony from systemic organ failure. Well, maybe that's a little dramatic, but I would have at least told everybody to get their own damned dinner when I was busy chasing my own rainbows.

Granted, Beany loves the domestic arts -- that's part of her appeal -- but it seems odd that Mattingly keeps her behind a hot stove for the majority of the series, only to castigate her any time she ventures out to do something fun or frivolous.

One of the things Anna Quinlen praised about the Betsy-Tacy series was author Maud Hart Lovelace's ability to celebrate her characters' love of luxury. Hence, Betsy can long for an expensive trip to Milwaukee, Tacy is allowed to lobby for a bridesmaid's dress that accentuates her autumn coloring, and Tib can dream of owning her own car. At no point does Lovelace condemn her characters for wanting stuff like beauty, riches, or success. As the writer wisely demonstrates, it is only when these desires become idolatrous that they cause problems. I wish Mattingly had made the same distinction for Beany Malone. Through 14 books, the poor girl does nothing but cook, clean, and perform good deeds. Would it have been so freakin' difficult to give her a blush satin wedding gown as a reward for all of that mop squeezing?

Beany, old girl, I hope you're reading this on a chaise longue, wearing a silk peignor, eating bon bons and chain smoking gold-tipped cigarettes. Goodness knows, you deserve a nice, long, luxurious rest after all of your labors.
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02/17/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Idiosyncratic (last edited Jun 27, 2009 06:55PM) (new)

Idiosyncratic According to Maureen Corrigan, who reviews books for NPR (see her book "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading"), Beany Malone is in the Catholic secular-martyr tradition; this would explain why her hopes are always dashed, yet she pluckily and humbly forges on.


Stephanie Wow, that's really interesting, Maureen! Makes tons of sense to this Irish Catholic girl. I still wish her family would have let up on her, though, especially on her WEDDING DAY, of all times!


message 3: by CLM (new) - rated it 5 stars

CLM Well put! And I want her to own a plaid skirt with plaid that matches up at the seams. And Katie Rose to have eggs in her refrigerator that aren't cracked...


Betsy I read this a few years ago and I *hate* this analysis of the Beany books. Talk about overthinking.


Stephanie Sorry, Betsy. I'll go back to not thinking.



Wendy I'm on the side that rolls her eyes at Beany for wanting a fancy wedding and Katie Rose for wanting food that is actually inferior to what she has... but I still get annoyed because of Beany never learning her lesson.


message 7: by Ms. (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ms. Yingling If you get a chance, read David Weber's Nonie. Weber was clearly a product of her environment, and I think she didn't have a lot of happiness in her own life, and didn't feel she deserved the little she had. I think I love Beany so much because she DOESN'T find the success that her siblings have, but I can see your point about how it's really not fair!


Stephanie Karen, that is so interesting. I have always felt bad for the author, suspecting she had a lot of similar experiences to Beany. It's true, Beany is lovable because she perseveres despite setbacks. Still, I hate it when everybody makes fun of her for wanting things...it's not like she was an ungrateful slacker!


message 9: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann Karen, you made my day. I chortled throughout your post. I do love Beany, but I agree that the poor girl really suffers. The comment about "Catholic secular-martyr tradition" makes sense, though I tend to think of Beany as "Everyman", sometimes winning and often losing: even though she is not talented like her sibilings, she is the center of all the books. Ordinary bumbling folk to make up most of the world :).


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