A deal’s a deal, anywhere—anytime—in the universe; but some deals, of course, are better than others. Sadly this deal was, for me, not one of the better ones. “What deal?” you ask. Well, here it is: Like the Oilers sending Wayne Gretzky to the Kings for some virtual no-names and some cash or the Red Sox shipping Babe Ruth to the Yankees for only cash—hold the no-names—I agreed to read a “book” called Heaven to Betsy if my sister (Jessi, the gracious hostess of this blog) would read Tarzan of the Apes. Now, undoubtedly, you know of the famous Tarzan series and its prolific genius of an author Edgar Rice Burroughs; and you would readily agree that Jessi got the better end of this deal. Despite the deal’s one-sided nature, I fulfilled my part in it, because . . . well, because I saw no way out of it. And how bad could a 327-page book with relatively large print be? Actually, that’s the question I intend to answer, for I’ve been asked (kind of) to review the book I read as my part of the deal. So, here it is—my review, which I’ve cleverly and descriptively titled:
Heaven to Betsy was Purgatory to Me
I read a book for any of three purposes:
1. To be entertained
2. To learn something of value
3. To get to the next book
If I’m reading a book that is fulfilling one of the first two purposes, I’m happy. Itis ideal if my current book is fulfilling both of the first two purposes. However, if I am only reading a book for purpose number 3, that’s bad news. Bad news for me, for the book, and for the people that have to endure my endless and vehement complaining (these poor souls are probably the recipients of the worst news of all).
Unfortunately, while reading Heaven to Betsy, all I could think of was when I would be finished and what book I would read after that precious moment was realized. Truly, as my title suggests, reading this book felt like being in Purgatory, where I imagine one is thought to simply be taking one’s “lumps” while waiting to move on to another (hopefully much better) place.
The first and greatest reason for my feeling this way is the book’s complete lack of a plot. As far as I could tell Betsy’s sole purpose and goal in life (and thus, “Bettina” being the main character, the book’s “plot”—if you care to call it that) was to look good and have other people see her look good. Mentally contrast this . . . uh, “action” with the thrilling adventures of Tarzan, John Carter, or Frodo Baggins and it should be quickly and easily deduced that I was quite bored.
I don’t believe I would have felt this way, even with the book not having any compelling action in it, had I cared for any of the characters—or at least the protagonist. But for everyone mentioned in the story I found myself feeling something somewhere between annoyance and cold indifference. Their lives, activities, interests, and dialog I found boring and irritating. Everything they did, said, or even were described as feeling—everything that happened—left me wanting to turn to the next page only to get there—not to find out what happened next. Possibly I felt this way because I knew what would happen: Betsy would go to a party, find a new fake beau (who didn’t really like her), blush, droop (for the duration of the party), and then go home. After a while (one or two chapters to be specific), that got old.
Along with my lack of feeling for the characters and the book’s lack of action, was my not having much in common with anyone in Heaven to Betsy. In full acknowledgement of my propensity to exaggerate and sensationalize, I submit that three of the five commonalities between Betsy and me are our humanity, breathing, and eating. Resisting the urge to simply contrast our two personalities, I’ll move on to the few positive qualities I saw in this book.
The last two of the five things Bettina and I have in common are our mutual interest in writing and our dislike for algebra. Not exactly things to build a strong lasting bond with, but enough to make chapters including things like the Essay Contest almost bearable.
Typing of the Essay Contest, it was, I feel, a good part in the book; but only—I must admit—because she lost. Of course, I have less than no confidence that this taught Miss Ray a lesson of any value (or, rather, that she learned anything from the lesson); in fact, I’m certain that she’d repeat her mistake again if given the chance. She just can’t resist those parties with all their opportunities to achieve her only goal in life (look good and have as many witnesses as possible).
Call me cold, hateful, unfeeling, or any synonymous word that you can think of, but I could muster no pity for any of her problems or troubles, for I believe she—through poor decisions and immaturity—brought most of them on herself. “But she was only 14, and sure to mature and change!” you might cry, eager to rush to poor Bettina’s defense. If that is indeed your reaction, I thank you, for you bring me to my next complaint: Throughout the whole book Betsy Ray undergoes no emotional or mental development (other than flippantly and pointlessly become an Episcopalian . . . which doesn’t count). She remains the same annoying girl, hiding behind the social persona she has created for no reason and thinks everyone—everyone—wants her to be.
In any event, I suppose that’s all I’ll say about this poor book. The last bit here will be in my own defense.
C.S. Lewis advised us to avoid reviewing (and avoid reading, if possible) books we already know we hate. A prime example would be me reading and reviewing Heaven to Betsy. A rather poor idea, I think, and I believe Clive would most heartily agree. But . . . keep in mind, please, that the reviewing was not my idea. (I cannot now remember if I was first to suggest the deal or not. Though I feel it matters less than the review.) I didn’t want to do this, but I was forced! So don’t blame me for what I honestly feel and tried to put into words. Blame Jessi, blame Betsy, even blame Ethel Barrymore (who I guess was a hunchback of sorts), but please don’t aim any ill feelings or harsh disagreements at me, ‘cause I’m innocent as a lamb.
Well . . . now, mercifully for those who enjoy this blog and those who enjoy this book, I’m done. I’m done with the book, with the review, and my own metaphorical purgatory. Now I’m off to my own metaphorical reading heaven (A.K.A.: a book with a plot).
I know you can pray someone out of purgatory, so I wonder it it's possible for me to pray that he stays there (at least until he reads all the way through Betsy's Wedding)? I'll be generous and let him skip Carney's House Party and Emily of Deep Valley. So, now I give you my review of Tarzan. A much more forgiving review I might add. =) I start out, as always, with my favorite excerpt(s) from the book.
"The Fuwalda, a barkentine of about one hundred tons, was a vessel of the type often seen in coastwise trade in the far southern Atlantic, their crews composed of the offscourings of the sea- unhanged murderers and cutthroats of every race and nation."
"But love is a strange master, and human nature is still stranger, so she asked her question."
I liked these two quotes, and it's kind of interesting because I think they represent the two things I did enjoy about this book. 1) The sea and sailors at the beginning of the book, and also when the French crew comes to the island. I love anything having to do with old sea, ships, and sailor stories. I love the way Burroughs calls the crew "offscourings of the sea." It's as if even the sea wants nothing to do with these scurvy fellows. I like to imagine what an interesting crew it was to be made up of "cutthroats of every race and nation." The second element of the book that held my interest was the romance and human nature story lines. Even though Jane and Tarzan's romance is a little on the unrealistic side, I'll admit I was disappointed when they collectively pulled a Miss Cobb on themselves at the end of the book. I also enjoyed the relationships between Professor Porter and Mr. Philander, D'Arnot and Tarzan, and even Clayton and Jane. I thought they were all good representations of true unselfish friendships. So, all in all, I enjoyed the beginning of the book (I also really liked Tarzan's parents as characters), but I got a bit bogged down through the middle with all of the jungle/apes/native silliness. The apes and natives were both disgusting and terrifying to me. I think Edgar Rice had a little too much fun detailing all of the lurid killing, gutting and devouring. But, the story picked up again once the rest of the human beings showed back up on the scene. I think Burroughs' portrayal of Esmerelda was a bit unfair and not really funny. I could almost be persuaded to read the next Tarzan book if it was guaranteed not to take place in the jungles of Africa (I have no idea if it does or not). Oh well....I guess I'll never find out, unless, of course, Jake agrees to read Betsy in Spite of Herself!
I leave you with a photo of Jake and me, which I think is a perfect representation of both of our feelings about Maud Hart Lovelace's great literary works! =)