Tasha in her review of The Man in Lower Ten on the Project Gutenberg Project blog. I immediately downloaded that book and then spent quite a long time looking for other books by Rineheart that appealed to me (she has an extensive backlist!). I found several, but the first one I read was Bab: A Sub-Deb. And oh, I'm so happy I read this! It was so funny and sweet and excellent, and I hope that I miraculously start a blogger trend of reading this book in the way that waves of bloggers have read and enjoyed 3 Men in a Boat and Daddy Long-Legs.
Bab: A Sub-Deb is about Barbara Archibald- a beautiful, slightly ditzy, 17-year-old society miss who is quite annoyed that her "barely older" but officially "out" to society sister Leila gets all the attention (and new clothes and party invites) while Bab must suffer through boarding school for two more years before she can become a debutante. She is, in her own words, a sub-deb, and it's a rough life. The problem is that Bab is a very pretty girl who draws all sorts of male attention and gets into a ridiculous number of scrapes and then does her very best to get out of them without any help. She rarely succeeds at this goal, but gosh, it's fun to watch her try.
The best thing about Bab is that she balances so well between being a very realistic, overly dramatic teenager and being one of the funniest and most endearing narrators you've ever encountered. I generally hate ditzy girls in books because they are so overblown and ridiculous. But I love Bab, even though (or perhaps because) she says things like:
"I shall now put down the events of the day, as although the Manual says nothing of keeping a record, I am sure it is always done. Have I not read, again and again, of the Captain's log, which is not wood, as it sounds, but is a journal or Dairy?"I think that's because even though Bab is a little naive, you know that she is also a very resourceful and extremely determined girl. Even as she gets into mishap after hilarious mishap, she always bounces back and does her best. She also has fantastically clever methods for getting her own way. "All is going well, unless our Parents refuse, which is not likely, as we intend to purchase the Tent and Unaforms before consulting them. It is the way of Parents not to care to see money wasted."
I can tell this is a review that will be littered with quotes everywhere, but I really want you to get a feel for just how wonderful Bab is. For example, here's a scene Bab describes when she feels that her whole family turned on her when she most needed them (spelling errors and capitalizations are original to the text):
Father was the first down. HE CAME DOWN WHISTLING.I love the way Bab interacts with her family, whom she loves even though she doesn't think they understand her. "It is always thus in my Familey. They joke about the most serious things, and then get terrably serious about nothing at all, such as overshoes on wet days, or not passing in French grammer, or having a friend of the Other Sex, etcetera." She particularly loves her father, who is her "only Male Parent and very dear."
It is perfectly true. I could not beleive my ears.
He approached me with a smileing face.
"Well, Bab," he said, exactly as if nothing had happened, "have you had a nice day?" He had the eyes of a bacilisk, that creature of Fable.
"I've had a lovely day, Father," I replied. I could be bacilisk-ish also.
I also appreciated how Bab, like all 17-year-olds, confronts some universal fears even in the midst of her crazy escapades. For example, Bab spends a lot of time contemplating whether she has the capacity to love, "not the ordinery atachment between two married people. I mean Love - the reel thing." She sometimes feels like she is a cold-hearted woman because she doesn't feel strongly for any man in her acquaintance. This is a very real worry for her, and it hints at the broader question of how much a beautiful girl of the early 20th century is allowed to flirt with boys without being deemed a flirt or an ice princess. But Bab makes sure we don't become too philosophical by ending her contemplation of romance in her life with this rejoinder: "The terrable thought has come to me that I am fickel. Fickel or polygamus - which?"
My favorite theme of this book, though, was how feminist it became, without losing the humor and consistency of the character. Honestly, if Rosie the Riveter were to be made flesh and blood, I think she would come to life as Barbara Archibald. Bab immediately becomes involved in the war effort, leading a group of girls to form a sort of drill team, learning flag signals, practicing target shooting, and pressuring the young men in their lives to enlist in the war. Mary Roberts Rineheart was very involved in the war effort, actually going to the front as a reporter, so it was very telling to see her take this light-hearted book and infuse it with some very strident patriotism. This sometimes bordered on disturbing as Bab suspected all immigrants of being anti-American. For example, she has a heated exchange with a servant who hails from Germany, and says, "The Emblem of my Country, and I trust of yours, for I understand you are naturalized, although if not you'd better be, floating in the breese AFTER SUNSET."
It's a very humorous exchange in which Bab is bested by said naturalized servant, but also quite telling when you know how Americans acted towards foreigners (particularly the Japanese) during the world wars.
But really, these hints of the very true and difficult problems faced by women and immigrants in the United States during the early 20th century only served to reinforce my love of this book. It is not only thoroughly entertaining and absolutely hilarious, but it also touches on issues and situations that have universal resonance. I loved every bit of it, and if I could quote the whole book to you here in this review in the hopes of getting you to download it, I would. But instead, I will leave you with this slightly longer section:
"Mother, were you ever in Love?" "Love! What sort of Love?"I highly recommend that you read this book any time you feel the need for a pick-me-up or a big, hearty laugh. It's so much fun, and I hope you love it as much as I did.
I sat up and stared at her. "Is there more than one sort?" I demanded.
"There is a very silly, schoolgirl Love," she said, eyeing me, "that people outgrow and blush to look back on."
"Do I what?"
"Do you blush to look back on it?"
Mother rose and made a sweeping gesture with her right arm. "I wash my hands of you!" she said. "You are impertanent and indelacate. At your age I was an inocent child, not troubleing with things that did not concern me. As for Love, I had never heard of it until I came out."
"Life must have burst on you like an explosion," I observed. "I suppose you thought that babies——"
"Silense!" mother shreiked..
Bab: A Sub-Deb is available for download on Project Gutenberg here. It is also available as a free download on Amazon.com
Note: I will be cross-posting this review on the Project Gutenberg Project blog next month. I hope you check that site out, too, because it's fantastic!
Oh, I think you WILL start a trend :D I already have this on my kindle thanks to your e-mail yesterday and I plan to start it very soon.ReplyDelete
I can't wait to hear what you think! I feel that you will really enjoy it :-)Delete
I saw you read this on Goodreads and immediately downloaded it. I am really enjoying it so far, it is such a funny read. Normally, the stupid spelling mistakes would drive me up the wall, but I think the author does a good job of incorporating that conceit into her style. Hooray Project Gutenberg!ReplyDelete
I know, the spelling mistakes are kind of fun. I am really impressed with whoever typed it up for Gutenberg- that must have been tons of work and pain! I love how she always spelled diary as dairy.Delete
How could I fail to download this one when your review was so amazing, and the quotes that you shared were so hilarious? I downloaded it the minute I finished reading your review. It sounds utterly hilarious, but also really interesting, as it seems to capture the particular time period really well. I adored this review, and love that you got quote crazy! Honestly, that was one of the things that let me know this book was not to be missed :)ReplyDelete
Oh, good! I'm glad you didn't get overly annoyed with all of them :-)Delete
So kinda Fitzgeraldy, but not depressing? ;)ReplyDelete
Haha, I would NEVER describe it that way, but I can see where you get that impression. If Fitzgerald wasn't so lethargically bored with life, then maybe!Delete
Oh school girl love, I read a bit from my diary recently and blushed. So sillyReplyDelete
But so much fun, too!Delete
What a fun review! I hope more people start to read Mary Roberts Rinehart, too. She's such a fantastic writer and I think her books have something for everyone.ReplyDelete
Yes, I am very excited to start her mystery novels.Delete
You convinced me to put this one on my kindle, for the next time I travel and want something new to read.ReplyDelete
Yay! I hope you travel soon :-)Delete
I like the sound of it, and the very idea of reading a book and bringing back to attention interests me as I know it does others. The only issue would be the spelling mistakes, creativity and character voice is great, but a lot of mistakes could be distracting. Nevertheless I'm downloading it as it would be nice to read a noted good book as my second venture into reading on an ereader.ReplyDelete
I usually hate spelling errors in books, but this one made it seem quite natural- I think because it just is part of Bab's personality, you stop seeing them as errors, and just more as part of the thematic scheme. I hope you like it!Delete
Between you and Tasha I really want to read her books now. I was thinking I'd review one for Project Gutenberg Project.ReplyDelete
That would be awesome- we could make a Mary Roberts Rineheart month on the blog, maybe. That might be a fun event there :-)Delete
Alright, I've downloaded this to my phone now too and will certainly try to get to it on my trip as a FUN read. :)ReplyDelete
YAY! I'm so glad! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.Delete
I love your reviews bc you enlighten me to books I would have never heard about otherwise!ReplyDelete
Aw, that is a very nice compliment :-) Thanks!Delete
The title of this book is just fun to say out loud. From reading the excerpts, I can see how the spelling mistakes actually work for the style. For some reason, "Silense!" mother shrieked, is more funny b/c of the spelling error. It's kind of like "I can has cheezburger" type-speak, but early 20th century spin.ReplyDelete
I know, it's hilarious. I think Rineheart really hit the tone wonderfully here, and I am forever indebted to the Project Gutenberg volunteer who typed up the text with all those errors in it and ignored the annoying red underlining!Delete
This is a wonderful review! A friend sent me this link because we share a love of the Daddy Long Legs novel. I need to check out Rinehart ASAP!ReplyDelete
Oh, I'm so glad you commented on here to tell me that! I hope you read and love this one as I did.Delete
I just finished this book yesterday--I downloaded it after I read your review on Gutenberg. LOVED it! Bab is so funny! Thanks for bringing this title out of obscurity.ReplyDelete
Oh, I'm so glad! Thanks so much for coming here and letting me know that you read and enjoyed the book - totally made my day :-)Delete
I randomly downloaded bab and I'm so glad I did. And so excited that other people have read it! I laughed so hard I cried many times. And I can't believe the book is as old as it is. It's so modern and hilarious. When she describes the drawing she gets and his heart was two stories below the fire escape?? I need more Rinehart!!ReplyDelete