Friday, May 21, 2010

Dime Novel Theatrics Done... Well Enough, I Guess

Well, I've made progress... maybe not as much as I could have considering I just had two blissful days of yom tov, but I was (and still am) in cl, so I think I did as well as can be expected... anyway, I'm in middle of the Meg Cabot, so more on that anon, but I *finished* the Harvey Girls - so here goes...

Huvi didn't like it too much, so I think I was *slightly* prejudiced going on, though I know her taste does tend to differ from mine quite often... but anyway, the first thing I noticed was that I found the tone quite anachronistic - and if there's one thing I don't like in my historical fiction, it's anachronism.  It was so much anachronism of speech (though there was some of that) or anachronism of dress/lifestyle, it was more just the tone.   And I realized that Samuel Hopkins Adams, writing, I think, in the 1940's, did not see himself as at all a contemporary of the 1890's young westerners about which he wrote.  The general tone I picked up, at least in the beginning, was basically that of the dime novel he references more than once in the book - a view of the west as the wild place and the westerners as rather simple-minded and uncouth go-getters.  To some extent, I think, this was actually the case... but I found myself comparing the book's tone and setting with the Virginian, which is unquestionably accurate, given that Owen Wister traveled out west for years and the book is basically a collection of some of his experiences there (slightly romanticized of course :)).  Anyway, there can really be no comparison between the two, The Virginian being an American classic and The Harvey Girls more of a fun read which gained notoriety more through the movie adaption than anything else, I think.

So that being said, I mostly got over the somewhat uneven tone pretty quickly, and was able to enjoy the book for what it is.  First and foremost, I'd say, it's a western, with all the drama and violence, all the corrupt authorities, rough diamonds, and always on top heroes that implies - so it was fun, all the more so because, like all my favorite books, it didn't really get *too* tense - issues tended to get resolved pretty quickly - like when one of the waitresses got secretly married and pregnant, she wasn't summarily fired, but continued on until she wanted to quit.  And the evil judge never actually got elected governor (sorry to spoil :))

And there were three attractive girls, all with pretty good romances going on - quiet Deborah, with her reformed gambler, Hazel Biggs, with her earl in disguise (yes, L&Gs, you read that right :)) and Cricket/Alma, whose good nature and supreme competence reward her with a P&P-esque romance and one sat--is-fy-ing Mr. Darcy :)

so all was pretty well until... as Mia says of Mill on the Floss SOMEONE VERY IMPORTANT DIES! - okay, so it wasn't Cricket (which is basically who it is in MotF), it's Deborah (sorry to spoil again :)) but it does put a damper on the book - and I kind of felt it was out of nowhere... I guess Deborah and her guy, Ned Trent, were kind of the good guy sacrifices so that Hopkins Adams could kill off the judge, and not have the story come off as too improbable.. but I have faith that he could have come up with something else and not killed of one of the main three... definitely a mistake in my book.

That being said, it was surprising easy to get over (her romance was definitely the least important of the three, and she doesn't really seem to be going anyway herself) and the book finished off okay... but only okay, it was on a pretty serious note altogether.  There was an epilogue 50 years later, which was nice, but I always find those kind of depressing, because they remind me of how much time passes (Great Expectations syndrome is the term I have just coined). 

This review sounds like I have mostly complaints about the book, but that's really not the case- it's fun to read about the west, especially when the main characters are such awesome cowboys... and if it's not The Virginian... come on, nobody is ;).   And the romances weren't bad at all... and like I said, the book mostly kept a pretty light tone, so it wasn't too difficult to recover even from the darker ending than I expected.  Plus it wasn't like I was expecting an incredible book anyway.

So verdict... 3/5.  And I'd recommend reading, but with low expectations :)

Oh and I almost forgot! It was totally fascinating to read about the Harvey restaurants, especially after hearing the NPR piece - just a completely new and different experience - always worth it :) (well not always, but this one was :))


  1. Ok, so i agree with you abt the harvey restaurant thing being interesting as well as the likeability of the men in the novel. However, I have to say that i found the book to be waay to affected with the author's voice coming through very strongly. also i didnt like any of the girls all that much, they were all a bit mary sueish

  2. I definitely agree with you on the Mary Sue - especially Deborah - I thought Alma was not a Mary Sue, just a good main character - but I'm not sure what you mean by the author's voice - do you mean what I'm saying, that it sounds like "my idea of a Western"?