A Saint-ly interlude

Dear Charlie,

I hope you’ll forgive my absence, but I’ve spent the last few days visiting 1948 and hanging with my other BFF, one Leslie Charteris and his irrepressible creation, Mr. Simon Templar, alias the Saint. Unfortunately, in spite of my being a card-carrying member of the fan club, I’m not as overrun with Charteris’ books as I would like; they’re in rather short supply on the Canadian prairies. So when I visited Hay on Wye this past May I took the opportunity to stock up, and this wonderful first edition was the best purchase of the trip. You can chalk it up to the engrossing nature of your books that I hadn’t read it already, but its siren song was finally too strong to resist.

What the two novellas included in Call for the Saint might lack in deep plot and characterization or your subtle humour, they more than make up for in action, daring, and pure, exuberant joie de vivre. I mean, really, how can you not fall in love with a series that open with paragraphs like this, from “The Masked Angel”?

Relaxed as much as the immediate carpentry would permit in his ringside seat between Hoppy Uniatz and Patricia Holm, he blended the smoke of his own cigarette with the cigar-and-sweat aroma of the Manhattan Arena, and contemplated the dying moments of the semi-final bout with his sapphire eyes musing under lazily drooping lids. Never addicted to obtaining his thrills vicariously, the man who was better known as “the Saint” would have found small cause for excitement even if he had been addicted to such sedentary pursuits. Being there anyhow, he slouched in easy grace, the clean-cut lines of his face etched in a bronze mask of sardonic detachment as he watched the two gladiators move about the ring with all the slashing speed of ballet dancers in leg-irons performing under water, and dedicated himself uncomplainingly to whatever entertainment the soiree of sock might provide.

See? Good stuff, right? In spite of the vast differences in your writing styles and subject matter, I think a large part of why I so enjoy both of your works is that you both genuinely love language and love your characters, and that love comes across so clearly that it’s hard for your readers not to fall in love with them as we read. Your readers might have as been frantic over the fate of Little Nell as Charteris’ readers were to find out how the Saint could possibly escape the gun-toting goon who attacks without warning. Sure, the Saint’s adventures might be the slice of cake after your own four-course meals, but everyone needs a great piece of cake now and again.

And now, Charlie, with my literary vacation complete, I will join you on your own travels to America and Italy. Bon voyage!

Affectionately,

Melissa

P.S. Also, this is extremely exciting.

Spectacular spectacular!

Dear Charlie,

Today I finished the last few pages of Martin Chuzzlewit, and I had to smile. Both because it’s a satisfying ending to a great story of human selfishness in its many forms, but also because of the way in which you wrap things up. I get the feeling that you knew exactly where you wanted everyone to end up, and were so impatient to tie it all with a neat bow that, among other plot devices, you stuffed as many characters into a room as possible so that they, like us, bear witness to the consequences of their actions.

And boy, does Martin senior ever dole out justice with assembly line efficiency: you and you: marry, you: dead, you: happy, you: tavern, you: humiliated (ooh, Pecksniff’s a tough nut to crack!). Oh! Remember Chevy Slime ( how could you ever forget that name)? He’s a policeman, of all things, arriving on stage to arrest his relative and winge a bit, and then disappearing back into the wings. Good god, I hear you writing furiously, let’s just get the damned thing over with already! As if a character-stuffed room wasn’t enough, we then have to squeeze in a proposal – done! And then let’s rush over to Mrs. Todger’s boarding house for yet another wedding and deal with the Miss Pecksniffs (and a resurrection, no less).

And just when we think everyone is accounted for,  who should wander down the street but the unfortunate couple from the States, who may have lost all their children to Eden but whose future will undoubtedly be brighter thanks to Mark’s kindness. Is everyone dealt with now? Holy crap, what a finale! All we need now is a rousing musical number with showgirls and a giraffe and we can take this on the road!

All this and a resurrection too!
© Holger Badekow

This grand excess might be less satisfying if anyone got less than they deserved. As it is, I can go to bed tonight in the snug assurance that the good have ended happily and the bad unhappily. All’s right with your world, Mr. D, in fiction if nowhere else. And all jesting aside, it’s been a great journey.

And now a short break, before I start taking your friendship for granted, or OD on Dickensian style…. But know that I remain,

Yours affectionately,

Melissa

Hoping for the best and the worst

Baddies. Bein’ bad.

Dear Charlie,

I’m getting down to the last 200 pages or so of “Martin Chuzzlewit,” and things are definitely coming to a head. Martin Junior has, fortunately for everyone, grown a brain during his failed attempt at conquering the New World, and has returned humbled, poorer, and a much better person. Worthy of having a book named after him, I should think.

I can’t root for him too long, however, since you seem much more intent on the fates of Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit, who are being brilliantly manipulated by Mr. Tigg (or Mr. Montague, as he now calls himself). I say brilliantly, but Jonas clearly has something along homicidal lines in mind for his associate. The interesting thing about characters who are all, in their own ways, complete bastards, is that you can watch the inevitable train wreck that is their karmic comeuppance with a glee unmitigated by sympathy. It’s coming, I can feel it, and I don’t want anyone to escape (except perhaps the wonderfully omnipresent Mr. Nadgett, spy extraordinaire – he deserves his own book).

Of course, I want Ruth and Mr. Westlock to get together, and for Tom to find happiness, and for Martin and Mary to receive Martin Senior’s blessing, but somehow watching good things come to good people isn’t half as entertaining as watching bad people get what they deserve. Schadenfreude is alive and well, in this little corner of suburbia anyway.

Now I get to sit back and watch things unfold, and hope that old Martin is playing a long con, and isn’t the senile old man he’d have Pecksniff believe. I also hope nothing untoward happens to Mrs. Gamp – her whole character is frickin’ genius, Charlie my friend.

And with that, I’d best get back to the story, although I remain,

Affectionately yours,

Melissa

5,000!

Dear Charlie,

I can’t believe it, but our entirely one-sided correspondence has just garnered 5,000 visits! Compared to your own vast readership it’s modest, I know, but I’m still thrilled. In celebration, I’d like to show you a portrait of you I discovered by a fantastic artist named  David Johnson.

Pretty cool, eh? I thought you’d like it.

Oh, and I just finished reading about Mr. Pecksniff’s oh-so-creepy advances to Mary. I thought Quilp was frightening, but Pecksniff is just…something else. So slimy and sanctimonious and just eewww. At least Mary has sense enough to see it, even if she’s being backed into a corner. What a character!

Well, I’ll let you get back to whatever famous dead authors do. Here’s to the next 5,000 visits!!

Affectionately,

Melissa

 

 

Pissing off Americans

ALL the Chuzzlewits!

Dear Charlie,

I’ve just finished the first volume of Martin Chuzzlewit, and have left Mrs. Gamp ministering at the sick bed of a mysterious stranger, an old friend of John Westlock’s, old Martin and Mary back at the Blue Dragon for reasons unknown, Jonas (mostly) engaged to Mercy and her sister enraged by it, Pecksniff doing his damnedest to keep on old Martin’s good side, and young Martin and the cheerful Mark finding themselves owners of a very dank, very remote piece of an American settlement called Eden.

I suppose I have become used to you, by now, poking fun at various English characters, institutions and cultural idiosyncrasies, so when you turned that sharp eye and caustic wit on the people and politics of the Americans Martin encounters upon his arrival in New York… well, I can see why your American friends weren’t exactly tickled by your exposing their foibles. As you yourself said:

I gather from a letter I have had this morning that Martin has made them all stark staring raving mad across the water.

Oops. I guess it’s true that you can only make fat jokes if you’re fat, eh? Fortunately, your friend Forster noted:

But though an angry they are a good humoured and a very placable people; and as time moved on a little, the laughter on that side of the Atlantic became quite as great as our amusement on this side, at the astonishing fun and comicality of these scenes.

And they are funny. Even if some of the politics went over my head, the behavior of the boarding house residents at dinner, the rigid social hierarchy, and the profusion of tabloids (I think we should definitely bring back your term for them, since ‘screamers’ is exactly what they are) made me laugh out loud. It’s interesting, too, that Martin, who you portray as a bit of a selfish ass, becomes much more sympathetic when you place him in the role of the English observer of American culture and customs. Let’s hope some hardship in the swamps of Eden finally helps him to get over himself and learn some humility before he returns home (assuming he makes it home).

And now this Canadian girl must put up a pair of curtains before wolfing down her dinner in the grand North American style. And, of course, I remain ever,

Affectionately yours,

Melissa