Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Valentine For Vinny
Marjory Hall
1965, Funk & Wagnalls

Vinnie turned away again, to hide the hopelessness that she felt must show on her face. She felt like crying. Could anything be further from her dreams, she wondered, than working day after day in this pokey little shop?

As autumn arrives in Rock Harbor, local teen Virginia Trent faces the end of her summer fling with the money crowd and the end of her hopes of attending secretarial school. Her dad, an appliance salesman, just can't afford to send her. Drearily, she looks ahead to a long New England winter working full-time at Betty's Card and Gift Shop, a drab business run by Mrs. Gates. Maybe worst of all, secret crush Ted Johnson has won a scholarship and so there's no chance of 'accidentally' running into him anymore.

Her sometime friend Carol has an analysis, comparing her to someone else she knows:

He was 'sleepwalking though life.' And I think maybe that's what you've been doing, Vin. It isn't any fault of yours - it's just that you haven't found what you want to do, or what interests you, really.

Vinnie, roused, recalls that she enjoys organizing things and begins, cautiously, to apply that to the shop. Her efforts to make a good job there pay off; she feels great satisfaction when an impulsive arrangement of baby shower items pays off, and begins to take an interest in the store. A salesman who handles the card sales to Mrs. Gates encourages her, as does reliable Hal Loomis, her old high school pal. And even as Betty's Card and Gift Shop blooms, the sleepy winter Rock Harbor is re-vitalized by Hal's dad, whose plan to build a country club has created a new enthusiasm in the locals. And Hal's dad is something else. He is, as Vinnie's dad sums up, a promoter. Vinnie reflects that:

Hal's father had always been something of a puzzle in Rock Harbor. He had moved to the little town a few years before, had bought a ramshackle old building and made it into the Harborside Restaurant. As soon as the restaurant seemed to be paying for itself comfortably, Mr. Loomis sold it and bought the Pepper house, on the corner of Vinnie's street. He took the old Victorian mansion and turned it into four apartments. Then, instead of renting the apartments and maintaining his income-producing property, he had sold that, too.

Hall clearly sees nothing particularly unsavory in the Loomis family tradition of hucksterism. She has Vinnie fall for Hal finally, after recognizing the impressiveness of Loomis senior.

She turned to look quickly at Hal, wondering if he had that same air of assurance and she had just never bothered to see it.

There are a few red herrings thrown about Loomis, but by the end of the book all is well - Vinnie's dad approves of him as "a sharp cookie" and Vinnie is thrilled the nice developer has donated the land for a golf course to the town.

Vinnie's a believable but unlikable character. Her romance with Hal is more about an unstated but heavily hinted at assurance that he will be a powerful and aggressive man than about romance. She drops her crazy dreams of football star Ted, who never noticed her much anyway, only because he actually stands her up for a hot girl. She's dazzled by a real estate developer's small-town machismo, repulsed by a woman who apparently is the sole unmarried woman over 30 in Rock Harbor, and reacts with tidy disgust to large families and poor people. Some of this changes, and some of it doesn't. Late in the book, she meets Miss Carrie (resident spinster) for the first time after spending the preceding 230 pages shuddering against the idea of becoming that weird old woman, and discovers that she's really human, after all.

They were simply four old friends in their late sixties who were thoroughly enjoying each other and their little get-together. Vinnie sighed happily. In a way, her own life was lightened and enriched at the sight of them, sitting there in the bright sunlight in an atmosphere of warmth and gaiety.

Which brings us to Hall's major flaw as a writer - she's too verbose. She badly needed an editor; the excess words are cumbersome and make the book much less readable than it should be.

Hall is most concerned with Vinnie's initial lack of gumption. This is a sympathetic storyline, a somewhat listless girl finding that she can enjoy herself if she stops relying on other people to create interest in her life. She finds pleasure in discovering what she's good at - promotion in the store, writing to people, etc. - and in creating a life for herself for the first time. She gains an appreciation for what can be gotten out of a seemingly dull, humdrum situation, and learns to enjoy living in the same small town where she grew up. This last is impressive, considering how frequently authors seem incapable of imagining how a young character can survive without going elsewhere. Of course, part of the way she learns to live in Rock Harbor's winters is through the major intercession of a grand building project with the country club. But at least Hall tries. It's a slightly unusual look at becoming an adult - the realization that you have to make your own interests and storyline.

Other Books
Bright Red Ribbon
Cathy And Her Castle
Fanfare For Two
A Hatbox For Mimi
Morning Glory
One Perfect Rose
Paper Moon
A Picnic For Judy
Rita Rings A Bell
Star Island
White Collar Girl

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