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The Wyndham Girls

January 8, 2017

Books disappoint me a lot. Especially older ones, I think, although that may just be because they make up the bulk of my reading material. It seems to be easier to write the beginning of a story than to end it satisfyingly, and I guess that makes sense. I also have what sometimes feel like unnecessarily exacting expectations, especially for romance.

Anyway, the better something is at the beginning, the more disappointing it is when it doesn’t end well, and that’s most of what I want to say about The Wyndham Girls, by Marion Ames Taggart. The first part of the book is everything I like: three teenage girls and their mother/aunt lose their money and have to adjust to their new circumstances. Jessamy is the refined, artistic one, Barbara is funny and mercurial, and Phyllis is simultaneously the most and least grown-up. They try their hands at several kinds of jobs, and spend some time being miserable in a boarding house before eventually going into housekeeping. There’s a poor friend who gives them the benefit of her experience, a nice young man who becomes part of the family, and an absolutely perfect scene where the girls have to make over their old clothes. Other standout bits included Phyllis and her friend Tom having a serious conversation about the balance of good and bad in the world, and a moment when Jessamy and Bab make an effort to be nice to some fellow boarders who are meeting them halfway.

Up to a little after the Wyndhams establish their own household, I have no complaints. but then the first romance plot kicks into gear, and I have several. Spoiler: all three girls get paired off by the end of the book. That’s fine, in theory, but only one of their three men has any kind of depth as a character. The other two are introduced as obvious suitors, and Taggart makes only a minimal effort to let us get to know them, or to show why the relationships work. One relationship develops slowly, but mostly off-page, which I would be willing to buy if the other one didn’t make me so mad. I don’t really want to spoil anything, but one of the girls expresses no special preference for her eventual lover until the very end. Nothing indicated to me that she loved him, or that she was interested in romance at all. The resolution is about disposing of her, and it feels clumsy and kind of mean.

The parts I object to are a pretty minor portion of the book, but they made me so mad that they loom larger in my memory. Overall, I still think The Wyndham Girls is pretty good. But I wish Taggart had ended the book with the girls’ removal to their apartment, and stuck the rest in a sequel.

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