Saturday, December 19, 2009

Meet The Malones


Lenora Mattingly Weber
1943, Thomas Y. Crowell Company

Mary Fred had just bought a horse. He was black and his name was Mr. Chips and Mary Fred was riding him home. The January wind had the moist breath of snow as it rippled the bridle reins, flapped the green scarf over Mary Fred's unruly dark hair, tugged at the end knotted under her tanned, squarish chin. She thought, "I've bought a horse." The thought could still startle her. For certainly she had not had the slightest intention of buying a horse with the money which had been sent her to buy a formal for the spring prom at school.

With this impulsive beginning we are introduced to 16-year-old Mary Fred Malone, the eldest daughter currently in residence at the ramshackle Malone house in Denver. Her widower father, Martie, is a columnist more involved in the war news than his family, leaving Mary Fred to organize the affairs of 15-year-old Johnny and 13-year-old Beany. When Martie trots off to cover the war news from Hawaii, Mary Fred decides to forgo the services of a housekeeper and split the salary between the siblings, who each have expenses: Mary Fred's upkeep of Mr. Chips, Johnny's new typewriter and Beany's remodeled bedroom. Things don't go smoothly, especially when their 19-year-old eldest sister, Elizabeth, returns home unexpectedly and sickly from a troubled pregnancy. But the two biggest cogs in the wheel of domestic harmony are Mary Fred's romance with high school hero Dike Williams (yes, I know) and the interfering kindness of their chic Philadelphia aunt.

A well-written, warm book which hits all the normal marks for books of this kind. A dead mother, a distracted father who has an intellectual yet underpaid job, a heroine who yearns to break free from drudgery but never will because she's so mentally enslaved, and a moral which rewards her slavish devotion to everyone but herself. All the males in her life spend their free time (which is plentiful, despite the fact they are forever held up as paragons of useful work) staring disapprovingly at anything she does which might be interpreted as, you know, selfish, and endlessly droning on about duty and how she'd be much happier supervising an impromptu Christmas play with pox-stricken 7-year-olds than skiing with a football hero.

I don't feel too bad for Mary Fred, though - she participates in other unsavory traditions of this breed of book. With the rest of her family, she casually scorns her neighbor, Mrs. Adams, who doesn't share the Malones's lively, warm, messy sense of what's important; Mary Fred loves to help Martie cater to a drunken old colleague, but she's indifferent and rude to the poor woman, who clearly hates living next door to a pack of obnoxious kids and their vicious dog.

It is a WWII book: Father said, looking around the table, "The fight's getting tougher. That means tougher on all of us." He wouldn't say more than that. But they knew he meant that they must give more of themselves, their work, their money. "Yes, we know," each one nodded soberly.

Yes, all right, it's war. And not just war, but THE war, the war against pure evil. But - I suspect that Martie Malone would have been like this anyway; he strikes me as a pain in the ass. He doesn't give up much. He clearly adores going off to Hawaii for work, he follows up this little lecture by lighting up his pipe, and he never seems to take a sabbatical from hectoring his womenfolk. Elizabeth, earlier, had dragged herself in off the prairie after giving birth in a shack, having been quelled by the menfolk into thinking:

"In times like these, we agreed, everyone has his own burden, and no one should add his. Don has his; Father has his; and this was mine."

I am agog to find out how this works out in divorce court; does he get custody of his war experiences while she retains full control of the children?

Other Editions

Other Books
Beany Malone
Leave It To Beany
Beany And the Beckoning Road
Beany Has A Secret Life
Make A Wish For Me
Happy Birthday, Dear Beany
The More The Merrier
A Bright Star Falls
Welcome, Stranger
Pick A New Dream
Tarry Awhile
Come Back, Wherever You Are
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Don't Call Me Katie Rose
The Winds Of March
A New And Different Summer