The Year of DelightApril 14, 2014
Mel happened to be reading this one when I said I wanted a Cinderella book, and something that was like The Blue Castle but wasn’t The Blue Castle, and recommended it. And Margaret Widdemer’s The Year of Delight is very definitely both of those things, and if Margaret Widdemer can’t stop her characters from coercing each other into being married…well, it bothers me a lot less when the person being coerced is the man.
The title makes both more and less sense when you know that it’s the name of the title character. Delight Lanier is a dreamy, obedient child, brought up at a cross between a boarding school and an orphan asylum, and she grows up into a dreamy, obedient young woman, working as a secretary for a philanthropic cousin. She exist more in her daydreams, which take place in the year after next, than in her real life.
That changes when her cousin dies and leaves her six million dollars and she’s simultaneously diagnosed with pernicious anemia. She’s only got a year to live, so there isn’t any year-after-next anymore. But she’s got millions of dollars at her disposal, so she decides to start living in year-after-next now. She collects the girl she wanted as a best friend when she was a kid and hires her as her companion, does a lot of shopping, buys a house in the country, and gets up a house party with the man she hasn’t realized she’s in love with and his fiancée as its nucleus. And, with all that in place, she tries to be an ordinary young person, in a way she’s never gotten to be before.
She’s very good at it, of course. That’s the kernel of the whole Cinderella story thing: a heroine who’s out of the world in some way — whether because she’s poor, or sheltered, or a drudge or whatever — to the point where she doesn’t really know how to…do life, I guess. But then she gets fitted out with a nice set of worldly possessions and thrown in with a nice set of people, and finds out that actually she’s very good at doing life.
Margaret Widdemer has a pretty solid grasp on that concept — see The Rose Garden Husband, The Wishing-Ring Man, Why Not?, etc. Don’t see I’ve Married Marjorie, because it’s gross. And she executes it very well here: The Year of Delight is materialistic but light-hearted, and Widdemer understands the value of being pettily mean to the hero’s fiancée, and of having an extra man on hand to fall in love with the heroine. She’s also really good at convincing you that her characters really enjoy each other’s company, which is always a plus.
The Year of Delight is almost too much like The Wishing-Ring Man, without being quite as good. Delight’s love interest, Julian, was a little less attractive by the end than he was at the beginning, partly as a consequence of clinging to Edna, his fiancée, for a little too long, and while Widdemer tries to make Delight’s inconsistency seem more like a feature than a bug, it doesn’t quite work. Still, though, mostly it’s just super, super fun. I feel like Widdemer delights in the same kind of knotty emotional situation that I do, and sometimes I almost don’t dislike her for I’ve Married Marjorie.