|Sweet Valley Saga Magna Edition: The Wakefields of Sweet Valley (Part One)
||[Oct. 27th, 2007|01:11 pm]
Elizabeth and Jessica are better than you.
Taking my cue from irinaauthor, who posted her magna edition recap in two parts, I'm going to do the same. So much awesome cannot be contained in one post alone, you guys.
You know, I have to admit that don't really have all that much respect for Francine Pascal. On the one hand, she created the Sweet Valley series. Awesome! 1bruce1! On the other hand, she created the Sweet Valley series. Boo! Eating disorders! Sometimes, in my weaker moments, I like to imagine Francine Pascal as being exactly like Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove:
Can't you just imagine her at a writers meeting? Flanked by a heavy on each side, she'd be shrieking at some poor ghost-writer who suggested that maybe, in the next book, Liz and Todd should finally Do It. Finally, she would fling her champagne in everyone's face and storm out of the room, screeching that she was surrounded by amateurs, amateurs! It would be so fabulous.
But I digress. Rereading this book, I regained some respect for old Francine. In this first section of the book, there'll be journeys across the Atlantic, circuses, bareback riders, escapes across the country, tragic deaths, earthquakes...and all this only takes us to 1908! I have to hand it to the series: any book which manages to fit all that into a modest one hundred and twenty pages and still makes it entertaining earns my esteem and admiration. So mad props, Francine. I didn't think you could do it, but you did.
Artistic note: Even though this is supposedly written by Kate William, the little Sweet Valley High flag is missing from the start of each chapter. While this makes sense - why would Liz and Jessica's ancestors know about Sweet Valley? - its absence makes me a little sad. Also, I'm not sure why this book is called The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, considering that Wakefield isn't the family name for any of the characters in this book, except for Liz and Jessica right on the last two pages. This is being overly nitpicky, though, I guess.
1866. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. I'm not kidding, that's how the scene is set. It's like The X-Files. Sixteen-year-old Alice Larson is aboard a ship sailing to America, where she'll meet her aunt and uncle. We are told that she is from Sweden, and it amuses me to imagine her talking like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. "Perffect seeze-a seex feegoores und Peceeffic Ooceun blooe-a iyes. Bork Bork Bork!" On the deck, Alice angsts about how strange everything is and how much she misses Sweden. Then a little boy falls into the ocean...and Alice jumps in after him. In her big old crinoline dress. Seriously. She blacks out almost immediately. Eleece-a, yuoo're-a un ideeut.
She's saved, of course, by a young man called Theodore Wakefield, or else we wouldn't have a story. Those of you who have read The Wakefield Legacy: The Untold Story will know that he's travelling on the ship because he's running away to America after his father told him that he's going to be Earl of Wakefield, but this book doesn't really go into that. I'll save my comments on that particular little gem of storytelling for that recap.
Anyway, Theodore and Alice start dating, or the nineteenth-century equivalent. He whittles her a wooden rose from a spare piece of lumber he finds lying about on the ship. "Thees is zee sveetest geefft unyune-a hes ifer geefee me-a. Thunk yuoo fery mooch, Mr. Vekeffeeeld. Bork Bork Bork!" she shyly tells him. He replies, "You're very welcome, Miss Larson. A beautiful rose for a beautiful woman." Ew. Theodore is so skeevy.
Brief description of what they're wearing on one of their "dates" to the ship dining room. Alice is wearing borrowed kidskin boots, a borrowed silk gown, and plenty of makeup because apparently she's a whore. And why is this supposedly-poor little Swedish girl best friends with passengers who own all these fancy clothes? Theodore is wearing a frock coat. I then originally typed, "...because he's cosplaying as Henry Fielding," but then I did some online research and it turns out that the frock coat was popular from the 1820s onwards. I feel irritated that my rude mockery has been thwarted by the ghost-writer getting something right.
The two of them fall in love, of course, and right before the ship docks, Theodore says to her, "Alice, we could marry right on this ship, you know. The captain could marry us." Actually, he couldn't. Also, he doesn't even ask her! Theodore sucks. Alice wisely decides to forgo marriage until they land, and Theodore says that he'll ask her uncle for her hand in marriage.
But once they land, Theodore is detained in immigration for days! Alice waits for him outside for about an hour or so, then wanders off to find her uncle and aunt. She thinks: "If she could count to fifty without breathing, maybe he would emerge, waving his hat and running toward her." Yeah, she's probably not mature enough to get married. She looks up at a street lamp in amazement because she's never seen one before. I'm pretty sure that Sweden had gas street lamps by 1866. I guess they could be fancy new electric streetlights, except they didn't appear in the US until 1879, so I'm not sure what's going on here. I'm guessing that the ghost-writer is just making stuff up. Unless Alice's voyage to America actually took thirteen years.
Side note: Intriguingly - given that part of the book is meant to be set in and just after 1866 - there's only the one mention of the American Civil War, and nothing about the fallout afterwards. I know the action is centred around whites in the north, but damnit, so was Little Women, and the Civil War still managed to be a central plot point there! But I guess that if I nitpicked every historical inaccuracy in this story, the book would probably anthropomorphically burst into tears.
Anyway, back to the story. Theodore is being held back because he's got typhus. Theodore is Helen Burns from Jane Eyre. All righty. He sees Alice leave and he cries like a little bitch.
Alice's aunt and uncle finally drag her away through the countryside. She cries. "Vhy deedn't he-a joost let me-a droon?" she asks herself through her floods of tears. Of all the couples in the book, I'm probably least-invested in these two, so I'm finding it hard to feel sympathetic. She travels to Minnesota with her aunt and uncle. Fargo jokes: commence! Alice vows to wait forever for Theodore to come and get her.
Suddenly it's 1877 and Alice is holding two new-born babies in her arms next to her husband, George Johnson. Ha! The twins are called Elisabeth and Jessamyn. Gosh, they almost sound as though they could be the protagonists of a major franchise! Everyone wonders how to tell them apart, but Alice has the answer: Elisabeth has a tiny mole on her shoulder. Oh, for fuck's sake. Although I am kind of amused that in this book the ghost-writer called it a "mole" rather than a "beauty mark". Props, ghost-writer, for not being afraid to tell it like it is.
Alice sadly thinks about her son, Steven, who died of scarlet fever. You know, I really hope that Alice Wakefield did a lot of research into her family background and decided to name her children after Alice Larson's children, rather than the whole thing just being a massive coincidence. Then there's a description of all the delicious food Alice's neighbours have brought her, which is a bit disconcerting considering it comes directly after the graphic description of little Steven's final days on this mortal coil. Did she eat Steven?
1884. Alice, George Johnson, and the twins are off to the circus. Jessamyn wants to see the horses. Elisabeth wants to see a tiny ballerina. Jessamyn sulks when her father says that they should go and see the sideshows first, but perks up at the idea of seeing snakes, which terrifies Elisabeth. While I appreciate that we're meant to infer that Jessamyn is essentially Jessica, I can't help but feel that the Jessica we know and fear would be all about the ballerinas and not so much about the snakes.
The family stares at a lady who wraps a cobra all around herself, all of them very impressed. Jessamyn is practically salivating. Elisabeth name-checks one Billy Tyrus, "the biggest bully in Prairie Lakes", who is presumably the Bruce Patman equivalent. All I can think of is how uninspired a last name "Tyrus" is for a bully. Seriously, is Jessamyn best friends with a wealthy girl called Lily Snobble?
Jessamyn manages to escape from her parents and ends up riding a big white horse around a field. Aw. I can just imagine her sitting there with the world's biggest grin on her face, while they're frantically looking for her everywhere. She babbles about Laura the Lovely, the horsewoman, all the way home, as well as the Magnificent Theo W. May I suggest that Jessamyn has a promising future as Jessamyn the Sociopath? But the mention of Theo W makes Alice sit up. Sumetheeng smells feeshy! After dark, she sneaks back to the circus to see if the Magnificent Theo W is in fact her Theodore Wakefield. She's too late, though: the circus has left town.
1893. The twins are now sixteen years old and hang around with Bobby Tyrus, who "was getting to be just as big a bully as his older brother, Billy". Why did the book need to have both him and his brother? Anyway, Billy hates three things: wimminsfolk who don't want to stay at home and have babies, and baseball. That's only two things, but that's okay: Billy isn't the brightest spark and probably can't count too well anyway. He makes fun of Jessamyn for being a tomboy and Elisabeth defends her. Why do they hang out with him?
Background info: Jessamyn is a brilliant horsewoman and Elisabeth loves to read. Elisabeth also has a secret crush on local cutie, Tom Wilkens. Oh, brother. Jessamyn flirts with Tom in front of Elisabeth, then accuses him of trying to rape her in the car after the sorority dance. Wait, wrong book. Actually, Jessamyn thinks boys are pretty stupid. Anyway, at a party Tom wins some sort of competition and that means that he has "the privilege of kissing the lady of his choice". Naturally, Elisabeth and Tom make out. It's kind of comforting to realise that whether it's 1893 or 1993, California or Minnesota, rain or shine, there will always be a Liz and a Todd making out somewhere.
Back at home, Elisabeth asks Jessamyn if she minds that Tom kissed her. Jessamyn is like, NO because Tom is UGLY and LAME and furthermore BOYS ARE LAME and also did she mention HOW VERY MUCH SHE DOESN'T CARE? Okay, maybe Jessamyn doesn't think that boys are entirely stupid. Check out this gem of authentic nineteenth-century dialogue from Elisabeth: "Gee, that's very big of you, Jessamyn." Jessamyn says that their town is boring. She wants to go to New York or San Francisco. Elisabeth thinks about how beautiful their town is and wonders why anyone would ever want to leave it, but we all know that this is a lie because the only town in the world worth living in is Sweet Valley. Don't fight it, Elisabeth. Elisabeth reminds Jessamyn that the circus is coming to town. Jessamyn perks up and starts chattering away about all the acts they'll see. I have to admit, I am a little charmed by this nineteenth-century Jessica, whose biggest thrill in life is seeing the circus once a year.
Jessamyn's best friend is an elderly Native American man called Peter Blue Cloud. My knowledge of Native American culture is minimal, but I'm just going to assume that, as always, the Sweet Valley ghost-writers have taken the cultural background of a character of non-white European descent and anally raped it. Jessamyn goes riding with Blue Cloud and points out some lady's-slippers. He tells her that it's actually called a moccasin flower, and is based on a legend of his people. Then he tells her about all the Indian Wars and she cries. It's so hard being pretty and white! This is horrible. I can't wait to get to the rest of the book, which has flappers and bootleggers and the French Resistance.
Jessamyn, Elisabeth, and Tom watch the circus parade. Jessamyn and Elisabeth are wearing leg-of-mutton sleeved dresses. Pretty damn sexy. These were indeed fashionable in the 1890s, and I'm both annoyed and delighted about how much research the ghost-writer has done for this book (more than some, less than she should have).
Oh, and apparently scratch entirely what I said before about Jessamyn not caring about boys. Apparently she spends most of her time at school convincing Carl Bergman to give her all his lunch. I'm not sure how likely it is that the twins are still at school at the age of sixteen - my only other point of reference for girls growing up in middle America in the late-nineteenth-century is My Ántonia. This is actually something I wouldn't mind being enlightened about, so comments regarding this are welcome!
Jessamyn starts hanging around at the circus all the time, disguised as a boy. Elisabeth worries, but rather than, y'know, talking to Jessamyn about it, she spends her time hanging out with Old Matthew, an ex-slave. She offers to teach him how to read. Then we actually get this:
It had warmed Elisabeth to see Matthew's lined face light up like a child's as he nodded his head eagerly.
"Would you, Miss Elisabeth? Would you really?"
Well, that isn't a completely patronising and offensive depiction of white/black relations AT ALL. Seriously, "light up like a child's"? Seriously? I can't believe that that was published in 1991. How the actual fuck did the ghost-writer get away with this? Gaah.
The next day, Jessamyn runs away with the circus. I'm sorry - I'm going to have to repeat that because it's just so awesome. The next day, JESSAMYN RUNS AWAY WITH THE CIRCUS. (Awesome.) She also leaves the best I'm-running-away letter ever, which begins:
Dearest Elisabeth, Mama, and Papa,
Please do not be unhappy. I have joined up with the circus as a bareback rider.
AWESOME. Should I ever have occasion to write a similar letter, that day will be the happiest day of my life.
Elisabeth, Alice, and George Johnson all hold each other cry. "I sev her sneekeeng ooffff iech dey in her buy's custoome-a. I knoo she-a hed a veeld streek. Vhy deed I nut stup her? Bork Bork Bork!" wails Alice. Well, at least she acknowledges that she's a fuck-up as a parent, which is more than Alice Wakefield ever does.
Months pass. Then there's more stuff with Elisabeth and Old Matthew, which I'm not going to recap or I'll end up smacking a bitch. Apparently everyone is nice to Elisabeth now that Jessamyn's gone. I'm assuming that it's in order to make her feel better, but it amuses me to imagine that while Jessamyn the Sociopath was around, everyone was too scared to go near either of the twins. Elisabeth starts spending a lot of time with Blue Cloud, who teaches her how to ride horses as well as Jessamyn. Tom brings her flowers and makes out with her occasionally, but this isn't enough to cure the pain in her heart.
Suddenly, Blue Cloud is dying! The doctor says: "I could give you one fancy diagnosis or another, but I think the truth is that it is his time to leave us." Otherwise known as Icouldn'tbebotheredtodiagnosehimproperlyitis. Elisabeth decides to disguise herself as a vagabond and go searching for Jessamyn in order to bring her back home to say goodbye to him, so that he can go happily. Bear in mind that Jessamyn has been missing for at least six months by this point.
Elisabeth hops on a locomotive (hee!), and meets Jessamyn at the beginning of the very next chapter. Unrealistic, but I am kind of pleased that the ghost-writer spared us a chapter of Elisabeth on the run and got straight to the meaty stuff. Jessamyn is thrilled to see Elisabeth and asks if she's come to join the circus as well. Oh, Jessamyn. I love you and the crazy fantasy world you live in. Then Elisabeth tells her about Blue Cloud, and the two sisters weep a little weep. They agree to leave the following day, after the show.
The show goes well, and afterwards, when the twins are feeding Jessamyn's horse in the ring, Elisabeth asks if she can take it for a ride. Surprised, Jessamyn agrees...only to watch in horror as Elisabeth is thrown from the horse's back and instantly killed. Jessamyn comes back to her hometown for the funeral, but it's clear that she's not going to stay there long. I feel kind of bad for Alice and George Johnson. Bork.
1900. Jessamyn is celebrating New Year's in San Francisco, her new home. She flirts with a rich man but ends up sending him away with a flea in his ear, and instead thinks sadly about Elisabeth. She returns to her room and looks at the wooden rose that Theodore Wakefield carved for her mother all those years ago, which her mother then passed on to Jessamyn. I think this next bit is kind of pretty:
She had told Jessamyn that she would always have her beautiful memories - memories that would never die, just as the petals on the wooden flower would never wither. She wanted Jessamyn to have the flower now, to keep her memories of her sister alive.
Jessamyn sighed. She was happy to keep the flower. But she didn't agree with her mother. What good was a flower with no scent, one whose petals weren't soft and dewy with life?
It's not grate literatshure, obvs, or even a particularly deep or original thought. But I like the way it's phrased, and I think it's very believable for the Jessamyn/Jessica character. Anyway, Jessamyn looks out onto the street on the first day of the new century, and she thinks about how alone she is.
1905. Taylor Watson, of Watson Motors, wants to marry Jessamyn. She likes him an awful lot, but she feels more of a "solid pleasure" around him. Okay, I just reread that sentence and it sounds filthy out of context. I didn't mean it like that, you guys! The text says quite clearly that the solid pleasure is inside Jessamyn!
Anyway, Taylor tells Jessamyn to try on the engagement ring, in case that sways her. Nice. She loves it, but she tells him that she needs more time, and he tells her not to worry about it because he's going away on business anyway. Taylor predicts that in the future Watson Motors will be bigger than Ford Motors, and I feel kind of bad for him because I live in the future and know that this is one prediction that doesn't come true. Taylor is kind of like a proactive Todd Wilkins, and I can't help but feel a little yicked out by the idea of Todd and Jessica dating.
Taylor also dabbles in motor racing, and his top driver is Bruce Farber. Bruce Farber is basically Bruce Patman, except with a moustache, and when Jessamyn meets him, she is one smitten kitten.
Interestingly, one of the reasons why Jessamyn is attracted to Bruce is because of his arrogance - he describes himself as "the fastest man on four wheels" - and this reminds her of her first love, the circus: "She was used to those words from her circus days - fastest, best, most daring, most wonderful. And when she had watched Mario and Dario soar through the air, or Marie Pierre dance on a high wire, she knew the words were nothing less than the truth." Now tug my ear and call me Ellen Riteman, but I really like that. It makes sense that Jessamyn - whose fell in love with the glitz and glamour of the circus at a young age - is attracted to someone who knows how to promote himself, and I kind of like the parallels and contrasts between circus advertising and self-advertising.
1906. Jessamyn is caught between Taylor and Bruce, and she can't make up her mind about either one of them. She knows that Taylor is passionate about her but she feels his emotions are too strong, especially considering that she's been pretty much emotionally dead since Elisabeth died. Bruce is much cooler, on the other hand, but he has a tendency to go driving with other girls. Bruce demands that Jessamyn give up Taylor, but she won't because "he's the proper choice...for Elisabeth". That is a horrifying reason to stay with someone: "Were my sister alive, this is totes the sort of guy she would have gone for, so I'll dedicate my life to recreating hers!" Seriously, Jess, break up with him. Leave Bruce behind as well. Come to my house! I'll make pancakes! We can stay up late and talk about boys!
Wait, though, because this bit is interesting: Jessamyn and Bruce totally have sex. "She felt herself falling into the power of his nearness," her "body tingled", she "abandoned herself to his spell". It's late at night; they're alone on a hill. I've read The Wakefield Legacy: The Untold Story, in which an unmarried couple definitely have sex in San Francisco at almost exactly the same time, so the parallel's there, and this series is all about the parallels.
And how can I tell these unmarried couples are having sex at almost exactly the same time? Well, the fact that they're in San Francisco in 1906 should be a pretty big clue.
You guessed it. Earthquake.
Jessamyn freaks out. She wants to go back down into the city, through the fires and collapsing buildings, to see if a copper-coloured refrigerator has fallen on top of Taylor. Bruce refuses at first, still seeing Taylor as his rival, but Jessamyn at last convinces him, on the condition that if he goes, she'll give Taylor up forever.
Everyone nearly dies! There's a lot of exciting description about buildings being engulfed in flames, and Jessamyn and Bruce finding Taylor, and Taylor having to rescue Bruce, until finally all three of them are all safe outside in the streets together, possibly about to be burned to death. Taylor tells her that he would do anything to save the man she loves and Jessamyn is like, the man I love is you, fool!
1908. Jessamyn and Taylor are living in Michigan with their son, Harry, and baby twin daughters, Amanda and Samantha. Jessamyn feels at peace with herself at last.
Also sometime during all this, Alice dies. Guudbye-a, Eleece-a! Neece-a knooeeng yuoo! Bork Bork Bork!
In Part Two: Flappers! Bootleggers! You know the rest!