Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rainbow Valley by L. M. Montgomery

After Frankenstein, the kids and I needed to cleanse our palates with some sunshine and rainbows.  We decided to resume L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series we’d begun last summer.  We had read Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, and Anne of Windy Poplars.  Technically, we should’ve read Anne’s House of Dreams next, but I wasn’t in the mood. Rainbow Valley, though the seventh book in the series, was published fifth, so I felt the choice to read it next was respectable.  

I love L.M. Montgomery.  Much of my twelfth year of life was spent emerging from an emotional chrysalis wherein I was indistinct from Anne. We were one, she and I. 

I thought her thoughts. 

I loved her man. 

It was a dark day when I woke up and realized I was just a girl with big bangs living in Minnesota in the 1980s.  And Gilbert...but no.  I won’t go back.

A few words about L.M. Montgomery:  One, I recently learned that she published the first of the Anne series when she was 34.  I will be 33 in October, so this tidbit brought me low.  Imagine coughing out Anne of Green Gables at the dewy, impressionable age of 34.  One hardly counts as an adult at that age.  One cannot be expected to produce greatness.  One is too busy dealing with one’s three children and cutting open one’s proverbial veins in order to nourish them in the ways of great thinkers to put pen to paper.  Wait.  What are we talking about?  Back to Maud.
Two, in 2008, the story broke that Maud very likely committed suicide, and that an overdose and not a coronary thrombosis killed her in April of 1942.  I bring this up for two reasons.  A.) Why should I bear it alone?  B.) I felt a sad surge of understanding.  Here and there, her writing opens up to reveal potholes of cold disappointment with God—more in Rainbow Valley than in any other of her novels. I always suspected there was more rattling around in the expanse of her heart than poesy and mirth.  I like her better for it, though my mind loops dismally around the notion of her suicide like a person with a lock-checking disorder.   What? After Anne, she what? How, after Anne? Again, from the top:  What?

Rainbow Valley (published in 1939) tells the story of Anne’s and Gilbert’s children—primarily the oldest four—and their spirited dealings with the nearby children of the local manse.   When the manse children happen upon a platinum-haired, light-eyed waif in an old barn, they open their homes and hearts to uncouth, irreverent Mary Vance.  Mary swaggers around, mangling the truth and causing trouble while simultaneously musing about the inscrutability of the Divine in a way that captures the ethos of the west during the decade leading up to World War I.   My son, Jack, felt that there was a dose of Davy from Anne of Avonlea in the character of Mary Vance—if Davy were crossed with something more aggressive and annoying.  I thought this was an interesting observation because Davy, too, pondered the painful mysteries of God’s ways and delivered them with the jolly directness of a scrappy, enterprising orphan.  The critique of Christianity, if there is one (and I think there is), lies under layers of childishness, ignorance, confusion, and funny sass.  It’s difficult to make out, and it is difficult to know exactly what it means coming from the pen of a Presbyterian minister’s wife.  The Rigdons and I had a whale of a time picking through the many references to God, human suffering, Christian culture and denominationalism, etc.  And by “The Rigdons and I,” I mean I.  The kids were beating their heads against my pine headboard and begging me to get back to the story.

Where is the sunshine, where are the rainbows, you ask?  The book is full of funny dialogue, childish mischief, and small acts of heroism.  L. M. Montgomery writes the sweet, jumbled minds of children better than anyone, and my kids loved it.  Ten zillion stars.  Read the whole set.

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