Tracy Park, againJanuary 8, 2015
Several things explain why I haven’t posted much lately — some extended Netflixing, rereading things that don’t fit here, like Mary Stewart and some early John Le Carre, and also rereading, yet again and very slowly, Mary Jane Holmes’ Tracy Park. This isn’t a review. I couldn’t write a review. I wrote a really long synopsis once, and that’s here. This is, I guess, an appreciation.
It’s ridiculous how much I love this book. Objectively it’s not very good, probably, but I’m not objective about it. And anyway, I think it’s Holmes’ best work, and that counts for something. It’s got things that others of her books have — insane people, and the name ‘Hastings,’ and a lot of low-key cruelty — but it’s also a lot kinder than her other books. No one is stripped entirely of their wealth, or left to die alone. No one goes crazy to the point of raving and tearing their hair out. Frank never has to make a full confession to his brother. Everyone’s okay with each other in the end.
Frank is my favorite, probably, keeping on doing wrong and torturing himself over it for years and years. In a way he’s the villain of the story, but he might also be the most moral person in it — he never really convinces himself that what he’s done is okay. I tend to cry a lot reading the last few chapters of Tracy Park, and most of the bits I cry at involve Frank.
If he’s not my favorite, the Peterkin kids are. Ann Eliza gets my favorite happy ending, popular and wealthy and doted on by her husband and living in Paris — although Tom could be a little more doting. Tom’s happy ending is pretty good for me, too, and the faint praise with which Jerrie damns him is such a delight. “So much more of a man than she had ever supposed he could be.” And it’s better because this is Tom under the least trying circumstances possible: he’s rich, respected, has never had to work a day in his life. Things are pretty great for him, but I enjoy knowing that he’d still go to pieces if anything bad ever happened to him. I have a lot of affectionate hate for Tom Tracy.
And Billy Peterkin. Ann Eliza does pretty well for herself. All Billy gets is Jerrie’s friendship and the author’s promise that he’ll never marry. And I’m not sure how much I think of Jerrie’s friendship, considering that her first reaction to his proposal was to mock him. I reject Holmes’ vision of Billy’s future, and I’ve imagined, in rough outline, an alternate one, where he settles out west somewhere, and is properly appreciated by the people around him, and marries someone who both loves him and impresses everyone in Shannondale. If I could wish a single book into existence, it would be that story about Billy Peterkin.
Dolly Tracy deserves a mention, too. She’s so uncompromising as a character. She’s the one who, in another book by Mary Jane Holmes, would die bald and insane in a shack. And I don’t know how that doesn’t happen, or where Holmes’ change of heart came from, but she walks a very fine line with Dolly Tracy, making her equal parts awful and sympathetic. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Dolly Tracy, but I’m glad she travels to Florida every winter, and I’m sad that she’s lonely.
The main characters are less interesting. They have their moments, but their moments don’t always add up to anything. Harold’s the worst in that respect. Harold’s moments come early in the book, and there is nothing interesting about him at all once he grows up. Jerrie is better — I don’t think I would love this book as much as I do if I didn’t care about Jerrie — but Harold infects her with his blandness and also she made fun of Billy Peterkin for being short that one time. Arthur’s fun when he’s being super weird, but I don’t care about him the way I care about my favorites.
No one’s all bad or all good — except Harold, I guess, which may be why he doesn’t do anything for me — and that’s kind of special even in books where everyone is objectively good. Tracy Park is such a ridiculous melodrama, but it’s also pretty human, and…I don’t know. Mary Jane Holmes manipulates me very effectively, and I enjoy the experience.