May 09, 2017

Turning Pages Reads: MAUD by MELANIE FISHBANE

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

Synopsis: Maud has been left behind by her father, who has gone away to make a success of himself after the death of Maud's mother so long ago. Maud has been with her strict grandparents ever since, sweating away the muggy summers, longing to strip off her stockings and run down to the shore. Trouble at school found her sent away from her grandparents to act as live-in nanny and help raise her cousins for a while. Now she's back with her grandparents and meant to prove to them that she can be a good girl.

Unfortunately, trouble seems to find Maud wherever she goes. A friendship with the Baptist minister's son is seen as a signal that her morals are in question; regular girlish hijinks are reported on as being "just like her Mother." Maud has no idea what her mother was like -- she died when Maud was only a toddler, and no one will speak of her. Her grandparents clearly disapprove of Maud's father -- and now rumors are wafting about which confuse her even more. fortunately, Maud's father at long last sends for her. It's a treat to leave behind Price Edward Island and see the rest of the country, but when Maud arrives at her father's household, it's not quite as she expected. Her stepmother doesn't seem to like her very much, and it seems she'll be closest to the maid, instead of her new step-siblings. It seems that at every turn, Maud faces disappointments -- not truly feeling wanted within her own family, feeling tremendous pressure to have a beau, be the perfectly poised and ladylike person expected, to do her "duty" for her family at home and not go to school, to take care of others, and bite her tongue. It's a triumph when Maud finally does get a break, but it's a bittersweet story that a girl whose tales transported others lived such a sad story herself.

Observations: Not every classic stands the test of time. If I go back and read ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, the book is still a lovely memory of childhood, of kindred spirits and bosom friends, but Anne herself isn't as clear a favorite (EMILY OF NEW MOON, published fifteen years after Anne, shows Montgomery's skills to a much better advantage, but for some reason, the rabid fave is still Anne). Her constant imagination-induced scrapes and good-hearted sweetness can be a little much if one is unprepared, and reading now I see some of the narrowness and racism of Edwardian era British life reflected in Anne's eyes. Still, L.M. Montgomery's gifts somehow never lose their appeal, even over a hundred years later.

The voice in this book has a reserved and less immediate feel to it, reminiscent of Montgomery's books, but somehow not quite. I felt that the author had pulled a screen between me and the emotions of Maud as a character, whereas with any of L.M. Montgomery's work, its trademark is that the reader practically weeps and laughs with the character; somehow Montgomery's characterizations are that sharply felt. The story itself is a bit depressing; I knew a bit about Montgomery's life, and knew it had been an unhappy one, but found it difficult to connect this Maud in the historical fiction to the facts about her life. Many readers might find that this novel opens slowly, but it moves more quickly after Anne leaves Cavendish behind and heads to her father's house. Subsequent developments in her life feel a bit more energetic, as the author leaves the focus on Maud alone, instead of writing with more detail on the immense cast of secondary characters. It was fun finding out that Maud had a nickname with also had a particular spelling upon which she insisted ("With An E!") and to discover how much Anne and Maud were a lot alike, in some charming and vexing ways.

Conclusion: While this book is published in the YA/children's lit category, I feel like this book's best audience is adults. Tweens who read L.M. Montgomery books now can find them a little tough to get into the adventures of an Edwardian era orphan, and so a fictionalized biography of the author might not appeal, but for those of us who cut our teeth on Anne's adventures and her big-hearted emoting, this will have crossover appeal, and echo faintly of Anne.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After May 16th, can find MAUD by Melanie Fishbane at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

1 comment:

Sarah Stevenson said...

This sounds like an interesting, if sad, story. I've been meaning to go back and re-read the Anne books myself. They weren't absolute childhood favorites, but I did enjoy them.