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The Girl in the Mirror

January 9, 2018

Every time I try to explain my feelings about The Girl in the Mirror, I get stuck, so let’s start with the premise instead. This sequel to Elizabeth Jordan’s The Wings of Youth opens with Barbara Devon’s marriage and departure for a months-long honeymoon. That leaves her brother Laurie without a guardian (and now wealthy in his own right) for the first time in his life. And that shouldn’t be dangerous: he’s stopped drinking and gambling, and he has friends and a career. But the folks who are worried about him are right to be.

Laurie first decides that he deserves a few months’ vacation, and spends it frivoling, flirting with his old addictions, and worrying and frustrating his two business partners. Then he becomes completely obsessed with Doris Mayo, a mysterious girl who lives in the building across the street. What follows is action-packed but ultimately meaningless melodrama.

There’s a thread Jordan could follow from Laurie learning how to take care of himself in the first book to learning how to be responsible for others in this one, and she almost does, but mostly ends up squandering her good material instead. She could spend more time on Laurie’s friendship with his sister-in-law, Louise Ordway, and his feelings of responsibility towards her, but instead we don’t even find out how her story ends. She could give Barbara’s friend Sonya Orleneff a story that happens on the page, instead of quietly pairing her off with the most convenient man. She could have Laurie realize that he owes a modicum of consideration to his partners, Rodney Bangs and Jacob Epstein. But all the really interesting stuff happens in the background, shelved in favor of something that looks like a mystery, but feels more like treading water.

Look, it’s not a bad book, even if I did spend a good two thirds of it wanting to kick Laurie. It’s just not as good as it could be, and not as good as The Wings of Youth, and I wanted more for Laurie — and Sonya, and Louise, and Rodney, and Epstein, for that matter. And maybe it’s an issue of expectations, but expecting Jordan to put as much thought into this book as the previous one doesn’t seem excessive.

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10 comments

  1. Yes! It’s not ultimately an impossible setup/premise or set of characters – it’s just that possibility after possibility (and plausibility after plausibility) is frittered away or dropped or abandoned.

    Well, that, and the sheer negligence about potential homicide is appalling (even without the introduction of a why-is-it-even-loaded gun). And yes, I wanted to shake Laurie for fair chunks of the book.

    I’d love to have seen how Sonya really dealt with the fact that her new friend was ultra-rich and the world that entails; ditto for the Infant Samuel’s mother – do they feel okay about being beneficiaries, or conflicted, and how does this “new world” receive them? How do they feel about all the other people like them out in the world? Would Sonya have wanted to follow the career path she was succeeding in, or was that no problem to drop? I would have even enjoyed hearing (okay, probably only a small amount) more about Flossie! But no.

    I also wish she’d put a lot more thought into it. I do suspect that there may have been some “please give us another book, right now!” going on, especially given that it appears to have been published the year after The Wings of Youth. I don’t know her authorial timeline (either what was “normal” for her or how much time she had to spend on either of these books), but it’s not uncommon for books to get a lot of polishing while being “shopped” but once a sequel is ordered, to neither have as much time to polish it, nor the motivation or distance to be able to (because you can’t just chuck the manuscript in the back of your desk for a few months to get some perspective when your publisher is begging for a copy ASAP). Sometimes churning things out rapidly pays the bills, though – but reduces the enjoyment of those 100 years later who want all the books to be good, and who know there aren’t any more coming from an author!


    • I thought the whole setup was appropriately like a stage set–it looks right, mostly, but there’s nothing going on behind the surface. Laurie and Doris keep having conversations where it seems like she’s going to tell him something, but she never does, and there aren’t even any real clues. I found it intensely frustrating to read.

      Sonya totally got shafted, both at the end of WoY and throughout GitM. I found Robert’s money hangups kind of tired and irritating, so I was ready to find it refreshing for Sonya to be practical and happily take assistance, but Jordan didn’t even bother telling us how she felt about it. And then the romance that (apparently) happens off-page…Look, Sonya deserved her own book as much as Laurie did.

      I don’t know what her schedule was like, but I do know she was a powerful person in the publishing industry. So…who knows?

      Oh, also: what did you think was going on at that house Barbara didn’t stay at in WoY?


  2. I absolutely could *not* believe that she didn’t tell him the truth in the house, when she was planning to and it was also evident that he was in Heads Will Roll mode. Yes, it would ruin all they’d been working for, possibly, but the stakes are just not really comparable and it’s kind of a jerk move on her part to just worshipfully accept his “you don’t have to tell me, then” statement, when her telling him would change literally everything. (I just read the synopsis of the movie that was made from the book, and one tweak to the ending fixes a few things for me, by the way.)

    I totally wish Sonya had her own book – but it’s also possible that Jordan may not have been able to write up to that given whatever time/energy/whatever constraints she was under, in which case I’m probably happier she didn’t, rather than have a disemboweled Sonya. This book mostly stays reasonably true to Laurie’s slightly-confused character, although him “not emoting” when being a hero is a bit odd when he’s previously been very “up and down” with visible emotions. But, eh, put enough pressure and romantic stuff on someone and they do end up behaving differently than they do at medium pressure without a massive crush in action, so there’s that. But Sonya’s character would be more disappointing if it were disappointing…

    I would *love* to know what was going on with that house in WoY. Obviously something illegal/otherwise-problematic (“She thinks it will help to – to avert suspicion if you are seen coming and going, simply and naturally.”) but on the other hand the same character explicitly states it is *not* a “den of infamy.” My best guess from the very-limited information we’re given is that it’s a political information trap (or spies trying to get information) baited with a blonde not-quite-a-prostitute-but-close and possibly other disreputable activities on occasion? Or, I suppose, it could simply be a “kept woman” sort of situation which they’re trying to keep things under wraps from neighbors or detectives or social circles; although the level of warning (and level of care) seems odd for that. Do you have any theories?


    • She didn’t tell him the truth because the plot required Jordan not to tell the reader the truth. And that’s always a problem. Things happen in books because the plot requires them to all the time, but if that’s the most obvious reason, the author has failed.

      It’s true, more time spent on Sonya, if it wasn’t enough time, would probably just be disappointing.

      I’m not sure if I have theories. It felt possible that the blonde woman was the problem, and the only problem. The really interesting thing, to me, was Barbara’s instinctive liking for her hostess, and nothing in the text indicated that she was wrong to like her. I did wonder if the mother was a little bit insane and there wasn’t anything wrong at all.


      • Yes, if there are definite reasons for something to not happen, but then it happens because the plot requires it to, it is a problem. (I don’t have a problem with reasonable coincidences, but if something has to specifically defy the natural order of things or be a real character aberration, nope.) Similarly, it would be *most* natural, for theatre people, to think of blanks or just leave a gun unloaded when it’s not going to be shot off, or at least tamper with it so it can’t shoot accidentally. I cannot imagine someone steeped in the stage not taking those precautions.

        I think the mother being a little insane remains a possibility until the woman renting the room said that she would be kept as safe as her own sister would be (which suggests there’s something in the house to be kept safe *from*), and in the context, the thing to be kept safe from does not seem to be the mother. Then, also, she doesn’t contest “I should have had my wits about me” at all, which also indicates that Barbara’s conclusions about the house, while possibly exaggerated, are likely factual in the essentials. The extraordinarily low price of the room is also a factor, although it’s true that you’d want someone who will treat the furnishings nicely and someone you’d get along with; but you could probably get that at a much higher price if you would just wait a week or two for the right applicant (but if the room is discounted because they want a blind in place ASAP, then it makes sense). I think the instant sympathetic connection might be explainable if Elizabeth Jordan is one of the people who sympathizes with those who have a Great Cause or Sufficient Provocation that they compromise some things for, which I suspect is the case from another book I’ve read of hers; in that case, the Great Cause people can be likable, sympathetic characters (at least to those who are not their victims), rather than causing Standard Project Gutenberg instinctive responses of loathing among all refined souls.


        • Yeah, that’s fair. I don’t know if I agree about the significance of the sister line, but I’d actually completely forgotten the woman’s reaction when Barbara tells her she’s not going to stay. In that case my guess is either something “political” (à la Laurie’s guess at Doris’ troubles) or something to do with gambling.

          There’s just so much going on in that section that it feels like there’s more of a story behind it. I actually went looking for some of the names on Google Books in case they were characters from another story.


          • Yes! I love it when characters from a book cameo in another book so you get a glimpse of them at an unwritten point in their lives (in most cases, so that you can get sort of the Christmas Newsletter Update on them without there being an entire book with a Plot focused on them again). I take it that, as far as you could find, there is not a Book of Intrigue written and available?


            • I love that, too. But no, as far as I can tell there’s nothing.


  3. Incidentally, another Elizabeth Jordan (available on hathitrust) is a very non-standard “he fell in love with his wife”: “Black Butterflies.” Warning: the climax is *MISSING TWO PAGES* (I just read it and am mad about incomplete digitizing?) – but the ending/outcome is still quite clear.


    • Oh no, that’s infuriating. But I am indeed a sucker for “he fell in love with his wife,” so…



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