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Mavis of Green Hill

July 30, 2015

It’s been way too long since I posted anything, so, um…let’s see. The last book I finished was Mavis of Green Hill, by Faith Baldwin. I enjoyed it, but I might have enjoyed it more as several books–three, at minimum. I liked each part individually, but by the time the book ended I was exhausted and glad that it was over. And, I mean, I get the impulse. When you’ve got a story in your head, there’s a temptation to put down all the parts you know about. But sometimes that’s too much, and as an author, you probably really don’t want to wear your readers out. Or maybe you do? Who knows.

It reads like a fantasy, is the thing. Like the novel isn’t the truest or most appropriate form for the story. Because, you know, some stories are best as novels, right? and some are best as movies and some are best as epic poems, or whatever. The kind of story girls tell themselves in their heads, or tell with friends, going back and forth, has its own genre conventions–certain kinds of incidents, an episodic quality, etc. Most relevantly, they tend to extend well past the usual happy ending, usually into boredom. If you don’t know what I mean, try reading some self-insert fanfic, which is the closest written equivalent. You get manufactured conflicts between the romantic leads, usually punctuated by periods of more or less happy domesticity. And then eventually all the conflicts are dealt with, and the happy domesticity keeps going until the author loses interest.  I don’t mean any of this in a bad way, by the way. I delight in most of self-insert fanfic’s genre conventions.

Anyway, it’s not exactly the same thing, but I found myself thinking a lot about those conventions as I read Mavis of Green Hill. Mavis is a young woman who’s been bedridden for about half her life. She lives with her father and a Faithful Family Retainer, and we pick up her story when Dr. Denton shows up in town. He checks all the boxes: handsome, impressive reputation, slightly antagonistic relationship with Mavis, convinced she can walk again, obviously adores her, etc. Then there’s the anonymous poet with whom Mavis strikes up a (in my opinion inappropriately flirtatious) correspondence. His disguise is too thick for Mavis to penetrate, but too thin for the reader. I mean, you’ve read a book before, right?

Then: tropes, all of them! Mavis learns to walk, her father becomes ill and pushes her into marrying the doctor. They spend a big chunk of time in Cuba, sort out their differences one at a time, and eventually realize that both of them are genius poets. I nominate their post-Cuba New England road trip as the least necessary part of the book, among many unnecessary parts.

The easiest thing to draw on, when writing about a book, is irritation, and I’m almost always irritated by something. But I really did enjoy this book, in a casual way. High points include the resolution of Mavis’ conflict with a girl she meets in Cuba, and her friendship with Dr. Denton’s best friend. Low points include her correspondence with the mysterious poet and the aforementioned road trip. I wouldn’t read Mavis of Green Hill again, but I would definitely read more by Faith Baldwin.

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