Friday, December 2, 2011

Review of *Future in a Handbasket: The Life and Letters Behind Carney's House Party*

    "Myself, I like the world ordinary people live in. I just want the Loco, lots of fishing, poker at low stakes, my sax . . . a home and kids sometime, of course. A girl like you, I think, would like a home and kids, with music just for the frosting on the cake.
    "You'll keep playing the piano. Probably your husband will hound you to play for him every night after supper. But as the kids grow older you'll play less and less. And you won't feel bad about that, for one of the kids will be musical, maybe . . . All your technical skill and talent plus a little from his dad. Say, that would be swell!"
    "Wouldn't it!" They glowed at each other.
    There was a shout from downstairs. "Carney! Sam! Where are you?"
    Carney jumped up and she saw the third floor room had grown quite dim. Beyond the tall windows the western sky was a sheet of flaming color.
    "Heavens!" she cried. "It's time to go home."
    Sam put his hand over hers. He gave it a warm squeeze.
    "There's your future in a handbasket," he said. (Carney's House Party, 128)
After reading Future in a Handbasket, that exchange from Carney's House Party has a whole new meaning.  I recently read and enjoyed Amy Dolnick's book about the real Carney, Marion Willard Everett, and decided to share some of my thoughts on it. If anyone follows me on Goodreads, this is just a slightly altered version of the review I posted there.

Some of Marion’s college letters are a bit gossipy, and not as interesting to me as the rest of the book (but still enjoyable). It seems like it would’ve been really fun to go to Vassar in those days. In that section in particular, I found it hard to keep track of who’s who (some people mentioned had the same name, and then there are the fictional names based on some it gets confusing). The footnotes were very helpful. If anything, I wished for more of them (and it might be nice if they were at the bottom of each page and not at the end of the chapters). It also struck me while reading this how people really knew how to write good letters then. I'm afraid that is something that is becoming extinct. But maybe we just write good e-mails instead?

I greatly enjoyed reading the parts about how Marion and Bill raised their children, and their life as a family. I also found the war letters to be extremely interesting. **SPOILER: Ted’s death really caught me off guard; I was not expecting that at all.  His letters were very touching and introspective. **END OF SPOILER** Tears were shed more than once during the reading of this book. I’m still confused about who is Willy/Bill and who is Ted/Ed in the photos. It seems like they are labeled inconsistently. Why didn’t we get to read any of Will’s wartime letters?

The letters from Maud Hart Lovelace to Marnie are absolutely delightful, and it makes me admire Lovelace even more. An example of an interesting quote from one of Maud's letters:
“I like to work a little religion into these books. You'll notice that I usually manage to.” (161)
I never realized that Maud liked to work these themes into her books, but looking back at the series I can definitely pick up on that. I also learned that Maud called Delos "Delossy" (159)! Cutest Maud trivia I've learned in awhile. Delos helped Maud with a lot of her male characterizations, which is another thing I learned reading this. It was interesting to get a small peek at Maud as a wife and mother. It sounds like her daughter Merian was very smart and busy with many school activities.

My biggest pet peeve with this book is that we aren’t given the responses to letters. I feel like we only get one side. The part where this bugged me to the point of frustration was in Maud’s correspondence with Marion while preparing to write, and during the writing of Carney's House Party. Maud would ask questions, but Marion’s answers were not all published! I really wanted to get to know Marion through her own words as she grew older. Were those letters just not available? Did anyone else who's read this feel this frustration? Maybe there is a good reason they were left out, I don't know. I also wanted to hear more about Kathleen Baxter and friends' visit with Marnie in the '60s.

Dolnick did a marvelous job; I’d love to read her other Maud-related books. The real people in this book seem like such lovely individuals. I kind of feel like each of the Crowd members deserves a book like this! It would've been amazing to meet them all. I think it is neat how so many of them stayed friends throughout their entire lives.

I consider this a must-read for fans of the Betsy-Tacy series and Deep Valley books, especially those that love Carney's House Party.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it? I really appreciate all of the work that went into it. There are also a lot of great photos included.

I think this book is out of print, but you can find it used online--or interloan it from your local library system, which is what I did.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up loving the Betsy-Tacy books, but Carney was indeed a favourite - I have AD's book and the Betsy-Tacy Companion and grateful for the 'real story' behind these lovely people. I wish I had met them, but am so happy that I know about them!