A Woman Named SmithMarch 4, 2007
Yesterday I read A Woman Named Smith, by Marie Conway Oemler. I think it was the title that attracted me. Also the fact that one of the author’s other books is called Slippy McGee.
Sophy Smith is a thirtysomething-year-old woman working as a secretary. She’s accepted that nothing exciting is going to happen in her life. Then she inherits Hynds House from Sophronisba Scarlett, a horrible great-aunt only related to Sophy by marriage who only left her the house in order to spite her neighbors.
Sophy and her friend Alicia arrive at the house and find that it’s a mess, but it’s a mess full of valuable old furniture and things, and they set to work cleaning it up. Everyone in town seems to hate them except for their neighbors on either side. They are Dr. Richard Geddes — sarcastic and short-tempered, but kind — and Nicholas Jelnik — mysterious, musical, and dazzlingly handsome — and both of them are related to the Hynds family. There is also a Hynds family mystery, a cache of jewels that went missing sometime in the 18th century.
This book starts off a bit slow, but it picks up once Sophy and Alicia finish restoring the house and start making it into a sort of upscale boarding house. The first person they invite to stay is The Author, a famous literary figure who is never given a name. He falls in love with the house and doesn’t seem to want to leave. I love fictional famous people, and The Author is hugely entertaining. Other guests include a suffragist, a famous illustrator, and a lady from Boston with an interest in the occult, and with the help of their guests, Dr. Geddes, and Jelnik, the two girls win over the townspeople. And Sophy gets proposed to by Geddes, Jelnik, and The Author.
I won’t say which one she says yes to, although it’s obvious pretty early on, but I will say this: I’m often disappointed in the heroine’s choice of husband, as I am here. But I’m only a little disappointed, which says a lot, considering how much I liked one of the guys who got turned down.
Guys, this book has everything. The haunted house, the missing jewels, the lost — and not so lost — family members, the mysterious personage in Oriental costume, the car crash, the nearly fatal illness…there’s even a mummy and a secret midnight visit to a graveyard. What more could one want?
I should add that since this was published in 1919 and is set in the south, there’re a lot of stereotypes about black servants, which can be kind of off-putting. I’ve learned to bypass that kind of thing without thinking about it too hard.