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Open House

April 18, 2015

So, Juliet Wilbor Tompkins is definitely going to be a Thing for me. Open House was almost as satisfying as Joanna Builds a Nest, and much less disconcerting.

At this point 75% of the books I’ve read by Tompkins have as a thesis the idea that no one can be happy without some kind of work. That’s a thing I also believe — probably for slightly different reasons — and it tends to produce exactly the kind of book I want to read.

Dr. Caspar Diman is a widower, although I forgot that about two pages after I read it and only remembered again just now. He’s also a nerve specialist, which seems to be pretty much the same thing as a psychiatrist, and he sees and sometimes houses patients in his excessively large house. Miss Snell is a regular, live-in patient, but schoolteacher Ann Blossom is nominally working as a housemaid, and college professor Ernest Cunningham is a vague approximation of a gardener. Ronsard, the French chef, is somewhat the worse for wear, mentally, and sometimes forgets to add necessary ingredients and, you know, cook the food. Dr. Diman’s sister Myrtle keeps house for him, and would prefer it if he didn’t bring home so many “strays,” but he seems to look on it as exactly as much a part of his job as giving consultations to his professional brethren.

His latest stray is Cassandra Joyce, a spoiled rich girl who is left to her own devices after her father’s financial failure and suicide. She’s some kind of cousin of Diman’s, and he’s hired her as a personal assistant or something, even though she’s never worked a day in her life and has no intention of starting now, although she’s perfectly willing to accept a salary. It takes her a while to grasp the concept that if she’s being paid to do something, she should maybe do it. So she learns that and a bunch of other important life lessons, satisfyingly slowly, and also she makes some pretty bad mistakes and gets to go canoeing with Dr. Diman.

They’re both pretty delightful characters. Cassandra is proud but practical, and once she gets in the habit of doing things, she finds that she’s pretty good at it. Diman is much less practical about things like money and organization, but he’s deeply practical about things like people’s feelings, and he’s selflessly kind. This is sort of a specialty for Tompkins, I’m finding.

There’s some drama towards the end that is not, in my opinion, adequately dealt with, but mostly I really, really like this book, and I wanted to keep hanging out with the characters as they started on their next project. And yeah, I’m still feeling like I need to read everything Juliet Wilbor Tompkins ever wrote.

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