The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

back of figure with baseball cap and backpack in dark, wooded area
There’s a red B on Trisha’s cap.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is Trisha McFarland, 9, the daughter of divorced parents and sister to a 13-year-old brother who epitomizes everything that’s obnoxious about teenagers.

One Saturday, Trisha’s mother takes both children on hike along the Appalachian Trail. Near a fork in the trail, Trisha stops to pee while her mother and brother go ahead, arguing.

Afterward, instead of returning to the trail, Trisha cuts across the woods to join them. She has no watch, so she can’t tell how long she has walked before she realizes she’s lost.

Trisha’s parents never taught her that when you’re lost, you should behave like a good dog: Stay. Trisha keeps moving, making choices that lessen her chances of being found. She is followed by what might be a monster, or her vivid imagination.

Days, she carries on imaginary conversations with Tom Gordon to keep up her morale. Nights, she listens to the Boston Red Sox games on her Walkman until sleep comes.

Aside from the fact that Stephen King makes Trisha sound 19 instead of 9, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is a satisfying 20th century version of a fairy tale: A dark, harrowing experience that, despite its happy outcome, will induce nightmares.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
By Stephen King
Scribner. ©1999. 224 p.
1999 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories

people and animals from fairy tales drinking together around a table
Get a load of those 3 porkers.

James Finn Garner rewrote 13 classic fairy tales to replace any language that would offend the sensibilities of “Politically Correct” 1990s readers with language that will make ordinary folks laugh out loud.

Thus in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:

    • Little Red Riding Hood becomes “a young person.”
    • The Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not naked but merely “endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle.”
    • The Little in Chicken Little’s name is a family name rather than a “size-based nickname,” and
    • Cinderella is put on the road to romance by an individual calling himself her “fairy godperson, or individual deity proxy.”

Garner’s long-distance nod to the historic origins of the tales is marked by a decorative capital letter, drawn by Lisa Amoroso to illustrate the story, and placed as the first letter of each story in the best tradition of early manuscripts.

Despite its extremely short length—79 pages—Politically Correct Bedtime Stories is not a work to be read in one sitting. To appreciate Garner’s humor, without being overwhelmed by the silliness, it’s best to read the stories one a night for 13 nights before bedtime.

Garner’s book was a flash-in-a-pan bestseller, ideally suited to the time in which it first appeared, but almost lusterless today when people seem unable to laugh at absurdities uttered by public figures.

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:
Modern Tales for Our Life & Times
by James Finn Garner
Viking. ©1994. 79 p.
1994 bestseller #6; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Harvester has fairy-tale charms & flaws

The Harvester is an old-fashioned romance with fairy-tale charm, an  implausible tale of a gorgeous hunk with a fat bank account who loves doing chores around the house.

David Langston has developed a prosperous business raising medicinal herbs. He dreams of a lovely raven-haired girl who will be the passion of his life. David builds a home for her, then sets off to find her.

He rescues her from poverty and abuse and gives her the protection of his name. When she becomes dangerously ill, he saves her with an herbal mixture he compounded.

Ruth responds with gratitude and trust but not passionate love. David has to chance losing Ruth entirely before he can win her completely.

The story keeps threatening to turn into a bodice-ripper but stops before a single button is disturbed. And Gene Stratton-Porter uses language so discrete it wouldn’t offend Queen Victoria.

The novel has all the faults of any fairy-tale: the setting is stylized,  the characters are types rather than individuals,  the plot is implausible.

The book’s charm is in those faults. Gene Stratton-Porter’s story is so preposterous it could never happen.

But that doesn’t keep us from wishing it could happen—to us.

The Harvester
By Gene Stratton-Porter
Grosset & Dunlap, 1911
374 pages
1911 Bestseller #5
@2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Broad Highway is bathed in silliness and sunshine

The Broad Highway, Jeffrey Farnol’s highly visual novel of the late 1800’s English countryside, took top honors on the 1911 bestseller list, and its good-natured, bookish hero’s absurd adventures still draws guffaws from readers.

The story starts in a mock fairy tale manner. Peter and Maurice Vibart inherit 20,000 pounds and 10 guineas, respectively, from their late uncle, with the promise that whichever succeeds in marrying Lady Sophia Sefton within a year will inherit the rest of the estate.

The cousins know each other only by reputation. To Peter, Maurice is a blackguard; to Maurice, Peter is a “terrible example of Virtue run riot.”

As Peter’s tastes in women (of whom he knows nothing) incline him to soft, clinging females, he decides to hike around England until he finds a way to earn a living short of marrying the tempermental Lady Sophia. By the end of the first day’s hike, the story has more loose ends than a yarn basket full of kittens.

A series of misadventures transforms Peter into an apprentice blacksmith, living in cottage believed by locals to be haunted. As Peter Smith, he rescues beautiful Charmian Brown from being abducted. And that’s just the beginning of Peter’s adventures.

In a style reminiscent of Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, Farnol mingles slapstick with witty commentary on his hero’s deficiencies, all amply illustrated in a string of absurd situations.

Farnol dawdles to let Peter be ridiculed, then streaks through more active scenes with hardly time for readers to note who was in them.

The Broad Highway is not a great novel, but it’s sunny silliness is a joyous escape from the gloomy seriousness of the twenty-first century. I wish someone would make it into a Masterpiece Classic presentation.

The Broad Highway
by Jeffrey Farnol
1911 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg E-text #5257
©2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni