Stranded in Arcady

February 1, 2011

I really owe Dorian for recommending Francis Lynde’s Stranded in Arcady. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve had the pleasure of reading in ages.

Donald Prime is a writer from New York, Lucetta Millington a teacher in an Ohio boarding school. They become acquainted when they wake up one day on the shore of a Canadian lake. Neither of them has any idea how they got there, but there’s a pile of provisions and signs that an airplane has landed nearby, and from these Prime deduces that his friend Watson Grider is playing an extremely elaborate practical joke. I say ‘deduces,’ but you shouldn’t draw any conclusions from that, or from anything Prime thinks. As far as I could tell, he’s not particularly good at anything, even his chosen profession. Grider certainly doesn’t think so — Prime’s main reason for suspecting him is that Grider once said that if Prime were stranded on a desert island with a woman for a while, perhaps his female characters wouldn’t be so one-dimensional. Presumably having to depend on Lucetta’s superior skill in just about everything is meant to cure that problem, but he manages to be pretty condescending to the “little woman” even after she’s saved his life and proved to be a lot more resilient and level-headed than he is.

Their first idea is to wait around until Grider, or whoever dropped them there, gets back, but eventually they gather the remaining food together and start walking. Prime, on a solo foraging expedition, finds a canoe fully loaded with all kinds of useful things. Then, much to his chagrin, he finds its owners lying dead under a bush. Not wanting to frighten Lucetta, he ties them up, weights them down, and sinks them in the lake. It takes a few days to convince Lucetta that it’s okay to take the canoe when she thinks its owners may be back at any moment, but eventually they have a go at paddling, only to find that they’re pretty lousy at it.

Lucetta, actually, isn’t lousy at everything. She teaches Domestic Science, which means that she can cook, and athletics, which means that she’s had a bit of first aid training. Also, she can swim, which Prime can’t. Anyway, they find a river and make their way down it, learning how to handle the canoe as they go. Other things they learn include

-the proper way to carry a canoe
-how to make glue out of sap
-the fact that they’re third cousins

This last bit, in combination with the fact that both Lucetta and Prime have seen notices in the newspapers advertising for the heirs of Lucetta’s mother and Prime’s father, is pretty suggestive, but our two protagonists almost seem to willfully ignore it. They continue down the river, and their wilderness survival skills improve a bit. Prime eventually gains enough confidence in Lucetta to explain about the two dead guys from the canoe, which is lucky, because otherwise she wouldn’t have any idea what was going on when they encounter a French trapper who recognizes their canoe and accuses them of killing its owners. Then he steals the canoe, apparently so that they won’t be able to get very far while he goes to fetch the police.

The police arrive in the form of a Scottish under-sheriff with a posse. He’s fairly bad tempered and entertaining, and of course he refuses to believe their story, which, after all, is pretty silly. They’re pretty happy to be arrested, though, because it does mean that they’re on their way back to civilization. But before their captor gets them to the jail, they’re intercepted by none other than Watson Grider, who appears to find his practical joke very entertaining — it’s hard not to sympathize with Prime’s wish to throw him overboard.

When Grider finally explains (it takes him a while to get past the point where he starts laughing hysterically every time he sees Prime and Lucetta) it turns out that he’s not responsible for their predicament, but, in fact, has spent the last month trying to rescue them. And also they’ve been left lots of money, and were kidnapped in order to prevent them from collecting it. All very convenient, especially when Prime and Lucetta turn out to be in love with each other — I say “turn out,” but it wasn’t exactly a surprise — and the fortune doesn’t need to be split up. It’s really fantastically silly; I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of conveying that. However silly you think it sounds, it’s worse. And, needless to say, I really enjoyed it.


  1. I’m about halfway through this book and really liked it.

  2. It really is such a wonderfully silly book, isn’t it!

    • It’s adorable. I also read A Romance in Transit, which was similarly adorable, but weird: I still can’t believe the father actually hits the hero to prevent him getting on the train.

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