Monday, January 01, 2007

Everyone Has His Escape

Happy New Year, Spinsters. It's been a restless holiday for this genius/waitress, but things are back to usual, more or less, and I've got that great New Year energy that makes you think temporarily that this year will be different somehow and you'll finally do all those things you always said you would do.
I read some fun books and watched some great talkies at the picutre palace, and temporarily forgot the usually omnipresent sense of nagging ennui that fogs the mind most days. What can I say, it's been a rainy New Year's Day and I'm moody.
I saw Children of Men and found it a bit on the nose, and yet who hasn't felt like they're just a cog in an unjust system, every day the same grey backdrop, just one more day till the revolution comes and shakes you out of your usual torpor.
I've also gotten a little Spinster feedback -- it was, "Use spell check" -- so I've attempted to clean up my act and hopefully the following review will contain much wisdom, and few mistakes.

"One Accross, Two Down"
In “One Across, Two Down” a frustrated layabout, Stanley, has grand designs on his ailing mother in law’s fortune. She’s a wise old bird though, and knows he’s a nasty piece of work, as she daily tells her daughter, Vera, who just sighs and reminds herself that marriage is for life. The mother in law, Maud, tells Stanley that the only way Vera will see a penny of her money upon her death will be if she dies of a stroke, and no other way. Her previous medical history predisposes her to strokes, but she’s been in excellent health lately, much to Stanley’s chagrin – especially when he finds out she’s shored up something like twenty thousand pounds. Stanley begins substituting saccharine for her medication, and settles down to await the inevitable, but frustratingly enough, she almost seems to be getting healthier. His problems mount when he discovers that the old bag’s got a friend coming to visit, and he’s downright bitter by the time she rolls around calling for Maud. This friend, Ethel, has words with Stanley while she’s waiting for Maud to come downstairs from her nap – she had to show up early – and rather unexpectedly has a stroke right there in front of him. While Maud snores upstairs, Stanley has a stroke of genius.

What ensues is the tale of a dastardly yet utterly incompetent and spineless villain, one who would happily dispose of two old ladies for a bit of money, gets in way over his head with con-artists who bilk him of his newly-inherited fortune, and seems to be getting closer and closer to cracking up under the strain of living with his guilt. Even mild, unprepossessing Vera begins to suspect something’s up.

Slowly, the only thing Stanley can count on is the pleasant diversion of his daily crossword puzzle to shield him from what is beginning to feel like madness. But it can’t be healthy to obsess over these puzzles, can it?

This was such a pleasant read, even though it was fairly light and lacked any great surprises. It was subtle, in its depiction of Stanley’s madness, and his characterization was marvelous. (I marvel at his complete selfishness.) Lots of great, classic Rendell touches and fun wordplay, naturally, like a Tell-Tale Heart pun when guilty Stanley develops a facial tic-tic-tic. Plus for the literary types, there’s Tennyson’s “Maud” to play with, something I liked especially when a certain old woman’s ashes (I won’t say whose) spill out of their urn to terrify Stanley (the scene recalls the lines:

“My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead …”)
Not sure if I’d recommend this as the first book for someone just getting into Rendell, but it’s fun for the converted, and for anyone slightly contemptuous of people who think their so damn smart just cause they can figure out a damn crossword puzzle clue.
Most of all, though, I liked this great quote, which suits this spinster perfectly:
“Everyone has his escape, his panacea, drugs, drink, tobacco or, more cheaply and innocently, the steady and almost mechanical habit of reading light fiction.”
Here's to a bittersweet 2007.

No comments: