A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Lakeville Lady

I confess, I have all the attributes of a literary snob. A Master's degree and most of the work towards a doctorate in English literature. A career as a college professor, as a cataloger of antiquarian books, and as a writer of academic and literary publications, whose specialty is putting medical, legal, or otherwise technical material into a format most people can understand. No television set. Zero interest in sports, lotteries, casinos, malls, fast food restaurants, or most other aspects of popular culture. But when I relax in my wing chair with a pot of tea and a book, it's virtually never an enriching work of non-fiction or a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that I'm reading. My guilty secret is that I'm addicted to tacky genre romance novels.

And not just any tacky romance novels. Specifically, the really, really bad ones. The worse, the better. I'm talking about books in which the heroine's name changes from Julia to Jasmine in Chapter 3, or the writer forgets how many children Julia/Jasmine's sister has, or grammar and spelling errors abound. Books that contain thrilling exchanges of dialog like:
       "Is there no way we can be on our own this evening?" he asked huskily.
       "It's impossible," she whispered. "It's our new diet conscious evening."

 I've never actually bought one of these, even at a tag sale where they can be had for a nickel. I check them out of the library--or, more likely, pick them up off the free shelf there. As a matter of fact, it's been a while since I've actually gotten any further into the library than the free shelf, the pickings there are so interesting. I go back to dump off ten that I've read, and return home with eighteen. It's sort of a disease with me.

One series particularly dear to my heart is British: the Linford Romance Library. For some reason I can't fathom, these are published by the Ulverscroft Foundation, a registered charity in the U.K, "established in 1974 to provide funds to help towards research, diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases." Among other charitable contributions, they endow the Frederick Thorpe Ulverscroft Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of Leicester. How they got into the crappy-romance-novel business is unclear.

 Lakeville Lady is a sterling example of the genre. Matilda Main has an engagement ring foisted on her by her current rich, older boyfriend, Jay Thorndike, who doesn't even bother to propose. Then he leaves town. Matilda decides to assert her independence by buying her own house, which she accomplishes (from checking the want ads, to purchase and sale agreement, to move-in) for $500 down in the space of an afternoon. She acquires a handyman named Rock, who can build a porch, chop a cord of wood and haul all the boulders for a retaining wall in the time it takes the womenfolk to make a casserole. They fall in love. Matilda learns that Jay is a swindler who is actually married to a woman named Thelma. Jay returns, Thelma appears and tries to shoot Matilda, Rock saves her life, the cops show up, Matilda and Rock confess their love for each other, the end.

The best line in the book, however, is on the half title page, penned by an earlier reader. "The worse written story I have ever read."

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