The Dorrance DomainApril 3, 2014
Cathlin recommended The Dorrance Domain, and I was frustrated enough with Peter the Brazen (which I’m still reading, bit by excruciatingly awful bit) that I started it almost immediately. It’s by Carolyn Wells, and it’s about a family consisting of four kids and their grandmother, who sick of life in New York boarding houses, decide to try living in a defunct hotel.
It’s a good concept, and it’s Carolyn Wells, so the execution should be good, too. But instead the whole thing just feels kind of halfhearted. I hear “kids living in an empty hotel” and yeah, I think, “oh cool, everyone can choose whichever room they want” and “they can spread out all across the hotel dining room.” And Wells provides that. But I also think I’m going to get kids biting off more than they can chew at first, and making mistakes, and slowly becoming more competent, and there’s barely any of that. Saying “barely any” instead of “none” is really nice of me, actually.
The problem, I guess, is that there’s no conflict. The Dorrance kids are like, “let’s try this thing,” and it goes really well, and then they’re like, “oh, cool, let’s try this other thing,” and that goes really well, too. And the magic of Carolyn Wells is that she can usually make that work, but, for whatever reason, she can’t pull that off here. I’ve talked before about how good she is at making her characters enjoy themselves convincingly, but she only manages it once in a while in The Dorrance Domain. Moments like the one in which Dorothy and Leicester collapse into giggles after signing in their first hotel guests, not knowing that their guests are basically doing the same thing upstairs, were too few and far between.
This feels like hackwork, basically. And — because it’s Carolyn Wells, and she is great — it’s not bad (except for some offensive stereotypes that seemed pretty mild in comparison to the ones in Peter the Brazen) just uninspired.