Daily Book Excerpt: YA/Children’s books:
Three more Lucy Maud novels to go and then we will be done!! I have been saving the dad-blasted “Pat” books – mainly because the two “Pat” books stink up the field (to quote my sister’s soccer coach from when she was little. “You stink up the field!”) Pat of Silver Bush. It’s truly bizarre to read them because they are both so bad. Lucy Maud didn’t write bad books. I mean, she wrote so many of them – and with the exception of Kilmeny – they’re all just GREAT. Kilmeny was one of her earlier books – it came out right after Anne of Green Gables [excerpt here] – but what’s interesting about the two Pat books [this one and Mistress Pat] is that they were written so late in her career. Like – how did this amazing author who had written so much that was awesome – come up with 2 such stinkers?
Having read her journals, I know that that last decade of her life was hell on earth for her. The fact that she was able to write anything at all is quite something. And she did write other books during that decade – not just the Pat books. But she really lost her way with these two – and I have speculated as to why. Lucy Maud – living as she did far from Prince Edward Island – with her high-maintenance insane husband … yearned, day and night, to go “home”. She never really got used to living away from the sea, and whenever she would go back to PEI for a visit, her writing in her journals about the island, and the sea, and the fields of her home, and all that …. are so lush and so nostalgic and so full of yearning that they are almost painful to read. It’s like – her real life, with her husband and her two kids, wasn’t really the right life. She never should have moved from PEI. (But then again, if she had lived on PEI, she might not have written so eloquently and memorably about that island. Being in “exile” does wonders to someone’s art. See Joyce.) But anyway, what I’m getting at here is that Lucy Maud Montgomery, a grown woman, a famous woman, lived in an almost constant state of agonizing homesickness. Like, it wasn’t pleasant nostalgia – it hurt her – almost physically to be separated from PEI.
Now – anyone who has suffered through the Pat books knows – that’s the whole theme of those books. Pat’s love of her stupid home, Silver Bush. But the thing that doesn’t work in the books is that: Pat LIVES at Silver Bush. She is not living out in, say, Manitoba, far from the red red roads of PEI. No. Pat is a little girl, LIVING at Silver Bush … and she is so attached to her home that she literally gets sick – yes, sick – if she has to spend a night away from it. Or … if a tree falls in a storm … she grieves so much that she has to take to her bed. And this isn’t just a childish attachment – the books start when Pat is 6 and ends when she’s in her 20s – and this bullshit “Oh, how I love Silver Bush” thing never stops. And they’re long books, too. Like – how many times do we, the reader, have to be told how intensely Pat loves her home? By the third chapter, I’m like, “Jesus. I get it. Okay? I get it. She loves her home.” But it doesn’t work for some reason.
I’d be eager to hear from other Lucy Maud fans what they think of this book. Does it work for you? Why? And if it doesn’t work for you – why do you think?? Like – what is missing here, in your opinion? Where did Lucy Maud go wrong?
I believe that Lucy Maud was creating an outlet for her own homesickness … which, of course, is a completely valid thing … but she didn’t do it in a way that makes a compelling book. She is somehow trying to make ME, the reader, love Silver Bush as much as Pat does. But the opposite occurs. Her narration keeps going back to the “how much Pat loves Silver Bush” thing that it actually starts seeming like a neuroses than anything else. I start to think that Pat could benefit from psychotropic drugs. Something is wrong with Pat. Like – why is she so homesick for her house when she lives there??? GET OVER IT, PAT. Get a LIFE, Pat. Lucy Maud also – unlike her other heroines – doesn’t give us anything else about Pat to latch onto. It’s not like Emily, or Anne, or Valancy … characters who are three-dimensional, who have all KINDS of responses to things, who are complex people, and yet logical – by that I mean, Lucy Maud has made these people seem so real that their responses to things – in all different kinds of situations – seem life-like. These are not cardboard cutouts. These are not people with One Theme Only, One Theme Only, come on, sweet baby, come on … Pat has ONE THEME. “I love my home.” And you expect me to give a crap about that for 600 pages? No. I’m glad you love your home, Pat, I hope you’re happy, but honestly – I think your attachment to your house (and, by extension, to things never changing) is actually neurotic – and I think you should, oh, go away to college. Go travel in Europe for a couple of months. Do SOMEthing that doesn’t have to do with your stupid house. Lucy Maud makes a fetish of the house. It is described in such detail that I could probably draw a floor plan, and list every single pillow in every window seat, every dish in the cupboards …. Now, details are fine … I mean, Lucy Maud described Green Gables in detail. Who of us can’t remember that spare room? Or at New Moon, too? Each room has its own vibe, its own character … but for some reason in those books it works, because – although the house is very important – it is, in the end, just background. In Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat – the house is the thing. The house comes to life more than PAT does. And why should I care about a house? I don’t. Or I might – but not just because Lucy Maud TELLS me to. I love Green Gables because it feels like a vibrant other character in those books – and I love it because Anne loves it. It is background to other things.
But it’s just interesting to me because Lucy Maud wrote so much and as far as I’m concerned she rarely faltered. Here she does. Her own powers of creativity failed her (the journals mention it briefly – how hard she found it to write these two books) – you can really feel it in Mistress Pat – where she completely runs out of steam maybe 150 pages before the book finally ends. The chapters get shorter and shorter and shorter as the book goes on … Lucy Maud just has nothing else to give by the end of that book.
And because I know the background – the horror of grief and anxiety that she lived in, day after day after day … the books end do end up seeming like a small triumph. Perhaps not of art – but of the WILL. (heh heh triumph of the will) No but I mean: she didn’t WANT to write a book at that point. She wanted to crawl into bed and sleep for 5 months. Oblivion. But since she couldn’t do that … she forced herself to sit at her desk every day, with her madman husband down the hall, causing all kinds of problems, and black clouds of war gathering over Europe again – much to her horror – her ongoing horror … and she ploddingly, determinedly, kept at it – and kept writing – until these two books were done. These were the books she had in her in those moments. And so she wrote them. And worked on them, and sweated over them … she knew something was off. She knew that it wasn’t a good sign that the books were so hard for her to write. But she just kept going.
I find that so admirable.
But still. The books stink up the field. It’s okay. Lucy Maud wrote so many books that will be read by generations to come …. it’s okay that a couple of them, only a couple, are stinkers.
So. The excerpt. Pat has made a friend – Bets Wilcox. Oh, and here’s another thing that is bad about these books. Everything is foreshadowed WAY too clearly. In her other books, when you get those moments of the future – it can be either chilling, or exciting … but here? You know from the first what will happen … Like stupid Jingle, Pat’s “boy”friend. You know that the childhood friends will grow up and Jingle will be a Gilbert-esque suitor, and Pat – with her neurotic horror of change – will not see Jingle “in that way”. It’s all basically set up from their first meeting – and Judy Plum, the gabby Irish servant, with her keen eyes – sees everything. But I think she sees too much because it leaves nothing to the reader. So Bets. Pat’s dear friend. Who is barely developed as a character – we just hear what she looks like, and we know – basically because Judy Plum makes a cryptic comment – that Bets is not long for this world. And oh no, boo hoo, Pat will lose her best friend. The book is full of “foreshadowing” like this – but it’s too obvious – so Lucy Maud doesn’t develop things – it feels more like events march to some inevitable conclusion. VERY un-Lucy-Maud-like. She really lost her way here.
Okay – so Pat – who is 11 or 12 here – has a sleepover at Bets’ house right across the way. But oh no! How on earth will neurotic dipshit Pat handle sleeping away from her beloved house for one night?? Because, as we have been told on every damn page, Pat loves her house with a passion. We, the reader, are supposed to sympathize with Pat. But no. THIS reader thinks, “It’s about time to start to cut the ol’ apron strings, Pat – because you’re starting to sound like One-Note Johnny and that is very neurotic. Get a life, hon. Things DO change in the world. And you better start to get used to it.” So Pat and Bets have their sleepover and the world, unbelievably, DOESN’T end … so Pat starts to go spend the night there even more, now that she knows that her house will not cease to exist just because she is not there.
Oh, and one other bad thing about these books: Lucy Maud relies too much on montage to get us from event to event. It’s the Lucy Maud equivalent of Rocky IV. Way too many chapters have sections that read like: “So summer turned to fall. The leaves began to turn, the air began to get chilly, the maple leaves fell …” etc etc etc etc. Long chapters with two-page montage sequences at the beginning – basically skipping over huge chunks of time. Lucy Maud couldn’t get us from A to B without a montage in these books – and again, that is so unlike her. I mean, she would use such a device in other books too – but it never felt so … imposed in the other books. Here you can tell she’s running out of steam.
Lastly – in the excerpt below – when we hear about Pat’s milestone – her “soul’s awakening” – I just don’t feel like Lucy Maud’s heart is in it. Compare it to the moment when Emily lies awake all night in the haystack – staring up at the stars – and has a truly spiritual experience, a soul’s expansion that will last her the rest of her life. THAT is what Lucy Maud is trying to do here – only in Pat of Silver Bush’s world – not Emily’s … and it just doesn’t … quite … work …
Excerpt from Pat of Silver Bush by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Pat went up to the Long House over a silver road of new-fallen snow. Every time she turned to look down on home the world was a little whiter. Bets, who had not been in school that day, was waiting for her under the pine. Just above them the Long House, amid its fir trees, was like a little dark island in a sea of snow.
There was something about the long, low-eaved house with the dormer windows in its roof, that pleased Pat. And Bets’ room was a delightful one with two dormers along the side and one at each end. It was very grand, Pat told Judy, with a real “set of furniture” and a long mirror in which the delighted girls could see themselves from top to toe. The west window was covered with vines, leafless now but a green dappled curtain in summer, and the east looked right out into a big apple tree. Pat and Bets sat by the little stove and ate apples until any one might have expected them to burst. Then they crept into bed and cuddled down for one of those talks dear to the hearts of small school-girls from time immemorial.
“It’s so much easier to be confidential in the dark,” Pat had told Judy. “I can tell Bets everything then.”
“Oh, oh, I wudn’t tell iverything to innybody,” warned Judy. “Not iverything, me jewel.”
“Not to anybody but Bets,” agreed Pat. “Bets is different.”
“Too different,” Judy sighed. But she did not let Pat hear it.
To lie there, with the soft swish of the fir trees sounding just outside, and talk “secrets” with Bets … lovely secrets, not like May Binnie’s … was delightful. Bets had recently been to some wedding in the Wilcox clan and Pat had to hear all about it … the mysterious pearl-white bride, the bridesmaids’ lovely dresses, the flowers, the feast.
“Do you suppose we will ever get married?” whispered Bets.
“I won’t,” said Pat. “I couldn’t ever go away from Silver Bush.”
“But you wouldn’t like to be an old maid, would you?” said Bets. “Besides, you could get him to come and live with you at Silver Bush, couldn’t you?”
This was a new idea for Pat. It seemed quite attractive. Somehow, when you were with Bets, everything seemed possible. Perhaps that was another part of her charm.
“We were born on the same day,” went on Bets, “so if we’re ever married we must try to be married the same day.”
“And die the same day. Oh, wouldn’t it be romantic?” breathed Pat in ecstasy.
Pat woke in the night with just a little pang of homesickness. Was Silver Bush all right? She slipped out of her bed and stole across to the nearest dormer window. She breathed on its frosty stars until she had made clear a space to peer t hrough … then caught her breath with delight. The snow had ceased and a big moon was shining down on the cold, snowy hills. The powdered fir trees seemed to be covered with flowers spun from moonshine, the apple trees seemed picked out in silver filigree. The open space of the lawn was sparkling with enormous diamonds. How beautiful Silver Bush looked when you gazed down on it on a moonlit winter night! Was darling Cuddles covered up warm? She did kick the clothes off so. Was mother’s headache better? Away over beyond Silver Bush was the poor, lean, ugly Gordon house which nobody had ever loved. Jingle would be sleeping in his kitchen loft now. All summer he had slept in the haw-mow with McGinty. Poor Jingle, whose mother never wrote to him! How could a mother be like that? Pat almost hated to go back to sleep again and lose so much beauty. It had always seemed a shame to sleep through a moonlit night. Somehow those far hills looked so different in moonlight. A verse she and Bets had learned “off by heart”, in school that day came to her mind:
Come, for the night is cold,
And the frosty moonlight fills
Hollow and rift and fold
Of the eerie Ardise hills.
She repeated it to herself with a strange, deep exquisite thrill of delight, such as she had never felt before … something that went deeper than body or brain and touched some inner sanctum of being of which the child had never been conscious. Perhaps that moment was for Patricia Gardiner the “soul’s awakening” of the old picture. All her life she was to look back to it as a sort of milestone … that brief, silvery vigil at the dormer window of the Long House.