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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2017-09-16 05:25 pm

Newbery Medal: Roller Skates (Ruth Sawyer)

So this is one of the Newberys people have heard of, I think. I've never read it and know very little about it. My bio-incubator insisted there's a traumatic incident where our young heroine finds an elderly friend dead in bed, but she also always insisted the fireworks scene from "Gray Dawn" was actually in "Beautiful Joe", so we'll just see, that's all.

* The back claims this is a story "about a tomboy who could not help being a lady at the same time", so I may wind up ranting loudly about gender issues. Or the blurb could be full of shit. We shall see.

* Illustrated by Valenti Angelo, so there's that. I like his writing better than his art, which is very simple and stylized, rather like Elizabeth Enright's art really, but it's not bad.

* By the table of contents, our heroine is Catholic or some sort of fairly high-church Christian -- we have chapter titles "Born is the King of Israel" (the refrain of Christmas carol "The First Noel") and "Twelfth Night".

* ...present tense. Huh. Is that only for our prologue, "An Introduction to Lucinda", or does it continue throughout?

* ...what the shit. What the entire shit. O_O "I know her in an instant; although I had forgotten all about her for years, had forgotten she ever existed. It gives me a shock to see her, looking so exactly as she should look, so everlastingly full of life and still on roller skates." Is Lucinda some kind of ghost? That would be the hell of a twist, for sure.

* We've switched to past tense halfway through the prologue, which kind of disappoints me.

* Our unnamed narrator fetches out a diary of the year 1890-something -- we use the old-fashioned convention of blanking out the exact year, as I've seen done in some Victorian novels -- and we begin the rest of the book, which is a flashback.

* Lucinda's mother and father are going to Europe for the winter, for her mother's health. Presumably the mother has tuberculosis or some such thing. "But just as they were leaving, Aunt Emily interfered. Aunt Emily had spent a lifetime interfering -- days -- weeks -- years. There was nothing she could do better, or that she enjoyed more. To thrust her finger into somebody's pie and wreck it -- that was Aunt Emily for you." This... rubs me the wrong way, somehow? I'm not sure why. It feels a bit informed, I think, and also a bit... stereotypical? misogynistic? I don't like it when the first you hear of a female character is the author going on at length about what an awful shrew she is. It gives me an awkward feeling, and I don't know why.

* Anyway, Lucinda is to be left with a woman called Miss Peters for the year her parents will be gone. Aunt Emily disapproves of this plan, feeling Lucinda is too independent, and demands (by letter) that Lucinda instead be sent to stay with Aunt Emily and her four "docile and ladylike daughters", to be properly sat upon.

* Reading Aunt Emily's letter has caused the parents to be running late for their boat, so rather than delivering Lucinda to Miss Peters in person, the father sends her in a hansom-cab. The cabbie is one Mr Gilligan, with whom we are told Lucinda will become great friends.

* As the family and various porters traipse out to the cab with Lucinda's shit, "Lucinda, like Abou ben Adhem, led all the rest". Okay, that made me laugh, as an era-appropriate reference that a girl of maybe ten years old (Lucinda's age has not been given, but she feels ten-ish) would have learned as part of her elocution lessons.

* Mr Gilligan the cabbie is described as having "the round face of a wrinkled and rosy angel". Okay, I will give Ms Sawyer this, she really does have a gift for words.

* Lucinda befriends Mr Gilligan on the cab ride over. She peppers her speech with references, Little Orphant Annie and Latin grammar, reminding me of a sort of cross between Anne of Green Gables and the Dowager Duchess of Denver.

* Lucinda has till now lived with her two parents, four brothers (where are they? I don't know, maybe boarding school), a French governess, a cook, a housemaid, and an odd-jobs man. She feels suddenly a bit lonely.

* It is agreed that sometime Lucinda shall go to Mr and Mrs Gilligan's place for tea and have Irish currant bread. Then Lucinda begins settling in at Miss Peters' place.

* We appear to be in New York City, by the way.

* Ooh, Lucinda gets a very fancy fold-a-bed which looks like a plush-curtained bookcase(??) when folded up.

* Lucinda's mother has given Lucinda a new diary. Is our mystery narrator adult!Lucinda, talking to the ghost of young!Lucinda? If so, why would Lucinda say that in the spring she had skated away and "never really came back"? I am so perplexed.

* We get an extensive list of the books Lucinda has brought with her, ranging from "Water Babies" to "Uncle Remus". I've heard of most of them. Is Ruth Sawyer a librarian? Her relationship to books feels like a librarian.

* No, a professional storyteller, apparently -- not just an author, a verbal storyteller and collector of folk tales as well. But she did found the first children's library story hour, at the New York Public Library.

* Yup, Lucinda is ten. Also, her diary has the same exact description as the unnamed narrator's diary, so they have to be related somehow, but the more I try to logic that out the more confused I get. Hopefully it'll make sense by the end of the book.

* Lucinda keeps referring to herself as an "orphan", since her family is not around. This perplexes me slightly, but okay.

* Lucinda goes to a private school where Miss Peters teaches. We see her skating to school, from the POV of the Irish policeman on Fifth Avenue, Patrolman M'Gonegal. One day she trips in the street, the Patrolman stops traffic till she can get out of the way, and they strike up a friendship.

* Miss Peters and her sister Miss Nellie talk about being firm with Lucinda, but cannot "allow themselves to dam up that clear, vigorous flood of life in Lucinda that had impelled her to buckle on roller skates and sweep the city like a small, square-toed, square-cut, Winged Victory on wheels". I don't even know how I feel about that; it's a hell of a sentence.

* Lucinda makes friends with the other boarders and people who live in the big boarding-house, of which the Misses Peters have one floor. There is a reporter she calls Mr Night Owl, and a little old Irish lady everyone calls Lady Ross, and a family on the third floor, thin worried people called the Browkowskis who have a blond curly-haired little daughter they call Trinket.

* There is also an Italian boy named Tony Coppino, whose father keeps a fruit cart on the corner, and who is having trouble with two bigger boys stealing the fruit. I assume this will be a matter for Plot.

* Lucinda bribes Patrolman M'Gonegal with candy to help Tony against the boys stealing his father's produce, and he talks to the patrolman over on Tony's street, who catches the big boys -- by now five of them -- knocking over the fruit stand and puts the fear of God into them. (In those words, even.)

* Okay, Lucinda isn't Catholic, she goes to a church whose preacher is called Dr Collyer. Or rather, she used to, till Aunt Emily went Swedenborgian and dragged Mama with her. Left to her own devices, Lucinda returns to the "Church of The Messiah". I assume the Christmas stuff will involve some of our Irish or Italian Catholics, then.

* Aunt Emily apparently brought up Emily's mother, after their own mother died young.

* On Saturday afternoons Lucinda must go to Aunt Emily's for sewing lessons, concurrent with a two-hour scolding. Lucinda, of course, hates sewing, as any good tomboy must, and has too much ~spirit~ to put up with the scolding. (Of course this has nothing to do with her having been raised in a loving family and not needing to learn submission for her own survival. It's just something Good People do, sass back at their tormentors. If you don't you're a failure. ;P)

* Anyway, Lucinda bursts out and damns Aunt Emily to hell, though we're told she didn't mean it. Realistically, that should earn her a beating in this day and age, but Aunt Emily's husband Uncle Earle is somehow a Cool Person who thinks Lucinda's behavior is funny and rewards her with supper in his nice library. What the shit is it about this era and laughing at unpleasant people as if this doesn't annoy them? :S

* Anyway, and Uncle Earle brings out his Shakespeare, of which Lucinda has only read quotations, and lets her read "The Tempest".

* Uncle Earle is an emphatically Nice person, with Nice blue eyes and ginger mutton-chop whiskers. Blergle. I have no bloody patience for all this... boxing-up of people into Naughty and Nice. And why the fuck is Uncle Earle married to Aunt Emily if she's so nasty? Has he no taste? Did she somehow ensnare him? *rolls eyes*

* Uncle Earle calls his four daughters "the gazelles". I think this is supposed to further prove that he is a Good person, having a sense of humor, but I don't like it -- I don't like the way Uncle Earle comes across as 100% likable and doing exactly the things Lucinda would want him to do. People have more complexity than that. He doesn't seem like a person of his own.

* Lucinda has a big toy-theatre made out of a box, and determines to present "The Tempest" for a Twelfth Night celebration, Uncle Earle having mentioned that it was the custom in Shakespearean times to do a play for Twelfth Night. (I have no idea whether this is accurate.)

* Lucinda invites all her friends to see her play, then skates down to the hotel where she and her family used to live and invites her friends from there. There is a new family there now, of which the grandparents are actors; there is also a new single lady, "a sort of heathen Chinee", who tips the porter well. It is arranged that Lucinda shall give a second performance of "The Tempest" at the hotel on January 7.

* Lucinda has been saving her allowances, and now she "borrows" the little girl Trunket to go to the toy shop with her and buy supplies for the play. Lucinda also buys Trinket a little doll.

* Later, Lucinda makes the "terrible discovery" that the Browkowskis are very poor and have almost no furniture nor anything nice. She decides to keep this fact to herself.

* Lucinda and Tony go out to have a picnic of potatoes roasted in a tin can. Miss Peters is dubious about this, but does not outright forbid it. The boarding-house's black cook's name is misstated as Sarah when it was previously given as Susan. (I think I missed noting this at the time, but "Black Susan" or "Black Sarah" is stated to have come up with the boarding-house-keeper lady from "the old home" in Virginia -- given that the Civil War ended twenty-five years ago, this is the dog-whistle for one of your standard fictionary ex-slaves who stay with the plantation owner's children out of sheer fondness and loyalty to their former owners, because it wasn't their desire to be freed. :PPPPP I understand that the off-hand portrayal of black servants in this book is period-accurate, but I don't like the way it's handled. They're not treated as whole people in their own right, the way Lucinda's white friends are.)

* Tony, we learn, wants to be an artist but has no supplies. This seems to be a common narrative for poor kids in this era -- Dobry wanted to be an artist in the 1935 winner, and Kate Seredy has a non-Newbery in 1940 with the same narrative of undiscovered young genius. Lucinda offers Tony her own art supplies, and asks him to make scenery for her production of "The Tempest". He agrees and also offers to carve a Caliban, since an ugly doll to play Caliban cannot be found. (I'm a little perplexed that the toy-theatre characters are three-dimensional dolls rather than the paper-doll-style 2D characters I've seen in actual toy-theatres of the era, but whatever.)

* A rag-picker in a cart turns up and invites himself to join the picnic. At first he seems scary, being dirty and unshaven and generally "disreputable", then he smiles in a friendly manner and they see him as "benignly elemental". For how aggressively anti-classist this book is, it's all the weirder how none of the black folks get personalities. *scowls*

* Uncle Earle has stopped by the Peters's flat to see Lucinda. He makes some remarks intended to justify his connexion to Aunt Emily's family, saying that "it doesn't do to have more than one person interfering in a family" and that Aunt Emily is "a fine woman -- if you know how to take her". I am not convinced. Uncle Earle seems fake, appended to Aunt Emily's family for no particular reason I can fathom. I don't believe in him.

* Then he says that Lucinda will "outgrow" her outspokenness. "You've got to. Think of the young men who'll want to fall in love with you and can't, because of that tongue!" Well, buster, you don't seem to mind Aunt Emily's tongue much, but you're chiding Lucinda for hers? *headshake* I have a lot of trouble with period-accurate sexism, I think we all know that, but still -- jeez. :P

* Anyway, Uncle Earle wants to take Lucinda to see a play, because apparently his role in this story is Lucinda's cultural education. He is making arrangements with Aunt Emily to substitute two hours of Shakespeare in the afternoons for the standard sewing-and-scolding sessions, because his own daughters read nothing but Pilgrim's Progress, the Bible, and Elsie Dinsmore. Sirrah, I think you have not brought your children up very well if not even one has inherited your taste for reading.

* Oh, he's Aunt Emily's second husband, so "the gazelles" must have come pre-raised. Well, that just absolves him of everything, doesn't it? ;P I don't even know why Uncle Earle rubs me so much the wrong way, but I really strongly distrust him -- not in the sense that I think he'll do anything bad within the story, just that he smells wrong to me. Did I meet him, I would be very polite and distrust the hell out of him. The way the writer is shoving him at me as a lovely person doesn't help either.

* Uncle Earle mentions that there is a vaccine for diphtheria, and says that Lucinda is being vaccinated by her new friendships against "snobbishness -- priggishness -- the Social Register". Lucinda makes a bet to Uncle Earle that she will stay out of the Social Register (the official list of upperclass New York families), and he says he bets her five thousand dollars. We are told in an aside that he actually puts this as a codicil to his fucking will, and that Lucinda at age twenty does actually receive this money, though she has forgotten the conversation by then.

* Lucinda feels that she "belongs" to Uncle Earle in a way she does not even to her own parents. Seriously, there's just something about Uncle Earle that creeps me the entire fuck out. I'm glad I didn't read this as a kid.

* Next Lucinda goes to tea with Mr Gilligan the cabbie. Lucinda brings her guitar with, and she and Mrs Gilligan sing Irish folk songs together. She promises to come again soon.

* Everybody Lucinda knows invites her to Thanksgiving dinner. She arranges for the boarding-house lady to ask the Browkowskis in her place, helps her former nurse Johanna with dinner prep, arranges to have next-day leftovers with the hotel-keeper's wife, and for her own Thanksgiving dinner goes to see her godmother, Aunt Ellen Douglas McCord, the only person in the family whose importance Aunt Emily will admit supersedes her own.

* Lucinda pleads to be allowed to go to Thanksgiving dinner on her roller skates, claiming she never falls down. Of course, having been allowed this, she promptly does fall down and ruin her nice clothes. She has also cut the legs off her long underwear so that she can wear it (as she promised her mother to) without its doing anything long-underwear-ish, so she skins her knees too.

* However, Aunt Ellen is not offended, and gets Lucinda cleaned up, and they have Thanksgiving dinner.

* Mr Night Owl the reporter has discovered that Trinket's father, Mr Serge Browdowski, is a genius on the violin, and Lucinda and Mr Night Owl agree to both sing Mr Browdowski's praises far and wide and try to get him a proper job as a concert violinist.

* Lucinda meets the little girl her age, Aleda Solomon, whose grandparents are actors, and they dress up and play theater together. The grandparents ask her to come again, as Aleda can be lonely when they're busy with their work.

* Then on her way out of the hotel, Lucinda runs into the "heathen Chinee" lady, who speaks good English and says "Mon Dieu" and wears Western furs and jewels, which I honestly did not expect. Her name is Mrs Isaac Grose. They have tea together and get along great, until Mr Grose slams in angrily and terrifies her. "...a squat, swarthy man. He had eyes, black and deep like pools of tar; he had a black beard, cut square, and the blue glass from the hanging lantern played upon it making it a luminous blue beard." He stops being angry when he sees Lucinda is only a child -- I think he thought his wife was entertaining another dude in her quarters or something? -- but she stays scared of him. "The man with the blue beard had given her the horrors." Suuuuure -- this very year, in Germany, we're gearing up for Kristallnacht and the Holocaust, but in America let's have a story where our one Jewish character is A LITERAL FUCKING BLUEBEARD. *beats head against wall*

* Now it's coming on Christmas and it snows. Lucinda arranges to have a Christmas tree for Trinket. She wants to invite all her friends, but she needs presents for them, and she spent all her pocket money on theatre supplies; however, one of her friends from the hotel, a Mrs Caldwell, will pay Lucinda to walk her little pug-dog Pygmalion every day. Then the "heathen Chinee" lady, who is now being referred to as the "princess", will pay Lucinda to come and talk with her and improve her English.

* Lucinda mentions to Mrs Caldwell one day that she has seen a red sled she wants to buy for Trinket, but she can't afford it. I assume Mrs Caldwell is going to buy Trinket the sled.

* Christmas chapter, in massive detail, and yup, Mrs Caldwell buys Lucinda the sled to give to Trinket.

* More details about the preparations for Lucinda's performance of "The Tempest". Miss Peters helps her abridge it, Lucinda and Miss Nettie sew the dolls' costumes, Tony carves and paints the scenery and props, as well as Caliban, who of course is "stained a savage brown". Why did we pick The Tempest in particular, I wonder, Ms Ruth Sawyer? Other than it having fewer sex jokes than most, of course.

* Later, being bored in school, Lucinda gets in trouble, first by bringing everyone candy, then by switching up everybody's class schedules so that they get confused and go to the wrong rooms, for which she is sent home from school. She asks Patrolman M'Gonegal to lock her up because she has been so naughty, but he tells her instead to go see a friend and lock herself up with them till noon. So she goes to see the "princess"... who is dead, having been stabbed in the back with a jeweled dagger from the wall. Holy fuck.

* The hotelier, Mr Spindler, arranges to keep Lucinda out of the police-court proceedings by telling her to pretend she didn't see anything and pretending the maid found the corpse. Then Lucinda goes down to spend the day with Mrs Gilligan, and there she falls asleep.

* Then spring comes, and Mr Night Owl takes Lucinda and Trinket to see the circus parade, and then Lucinda and Tony to see the circus itself, Trinket having caught cold. At the circus, they get invited to ride the famous elephant, Jumbo, and do so.

* Trinket is very sick, though Lucinda doesn't realize it: "I never saw her cheeks so red or her eyes so bright."

* Next day, Lucinda and Uncle Earle finish reading "As You Like It", and Uncle Earle says he thinks Lucinda is mature enough to handle a tragedy -- "Romeo and Juliet".

* Then on St Patrick's Day Lucinda takes the two younger "gazelles" to a theater to see a play, secretly, against Aunt Emily's wishes -- I don't know if this is going to come out later and cause trouble or if it's just another Fun Adventure.

* Then Lucinda goes to her family doctor and talks him into coming to see Trinket for free, because everybody likes Lucinda and can't say no to her. The doctor works all night over Trinket, and at dawn he takes Lucinda out walking down to the riverside, and tells her in metaphor that Trinket is dead.

* The Browkowskis cannot afford to bury Trinket, so Lucinda gets Uncle Earle to pay for her funeral.

* We are told that Lucinda's family found her difficult and did not like her very much, her being a surprise baby and all. But the Browkowskis find her comforting to have around, and her friends take care of her.

* Tony and Lucinda go again to the empty lot where they had their picnics, but the rag-picker doesn't show up; I can only assume he died over the winter as well. There's a startling amount of death in this book.

* There is a wedding, of a teacher at Lucinda's school, and Lucinda is a bridesmaid. Then the hotel has a ball on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day). Then Lucinda's parents are coming home, and she knows she will "never belong to herself again". She imagines staying in the park forever, always skating, always ten years old, to hibernate in the winter and come out in the spring and skate again. This is the young Lucinda that our older Lucinda saw at the beginning of the book, having forgotten everything about this year. And that is the end of the book.

* I don't even know what the shit to do with that. I have literally no idea. O_O Part of me feels like it might be Literature, and part of me feels jumbled-up and peculiar. Perhaps it'll make more sense in the morning. That's a hell of a thing, for sure.
bookblather: A picture of Yomiko Readman looking at books with the text "bookgasm." (Default)

[personal profile] bookblather 2017-09-21 09:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Uh. Wow. Did... did they ever resolve who murdered the princess, or are we just supposed to assume it's our One Jewish Character Who Is Obviously Evil?

It was totally Uncle Earle though.

Oh, my gosh, I remember this one!

(Anonymous) 2017-10-08 09:47 am (UTC)(link)
I remember reading this as a child - so much of it is hazy, but I remember being intrigued by a lot of the description. The list of all her assorted luggage at the beginning fascinated me, for some reason.

Wasn't there a spoiler at the beginning, from the narrator, regarding Trinket's death? I seem to remember some sort of conversation between Lucinda and an unidentified narrator figure - I'm sure I remember a kind of meta-commentary in which the narrator and Lucinda are talking about how somebody-or-other didn't approve of the book being a children's book since it includes Trinket's death. What the heck was up with that?

OK, I now have to go buy a copy to reread it...