Mollie’s Substitute HusbandApril 6, 2015
I’m not altogether sure what to say about Mollie’s Substitute Husband, by Max McConn. I mean, aside from the obvious, which is that it’s The Prisoner of Zenda if it were set in Chicago circa 1920 and almost every possible thing went wrong and then at the end everyone was like, “oh well, no harm done.”
Our Rassendyl is John Merriam, a small town high school principal, only–well, he’s no Rudolf Rassendyl. His Princess Flavia is Mollie June Norman, his former student and the wife of a senator who happens to be Merriam’s near-identical distant cousin. Merriam is talked into impersonating Norman by a politician, a society woman, and a priest, but nothing goes as planned.
It’s a fun romp, really, and I’m not doing it any favors by comparing it to one of the great Victorian adventure novels. Merriam isn’t likable enough to make a good hero, and if you are thinking of Zenda or its sequel, the conveniently happy ending might leave a bad taste in your mouth, but other than that, Mollie’s Substitute Husband is pretty delightfully weird. The male characters are, at best, not super irritating, but there are some awesome women: Alicia Wayward, brewer’s daughter turned reformer, manipulates everyone around her transparently and with masses of good will, and she’s probably my favorite. Mary Norman, the senator’s sister and occasional puppeteer, has more integrity and brains than everyone else combined. And Margery Milton, Norman’s mistress’ roommate, was a delightful surprise to both me and Merriam, who rightly describes her as a trump.