I went to the library this week, with a mind to try something new. These forays into new territory are always fraught with anticipation and sometimes disappointment. My reaction to this week’s selection was, shall we say, mixed.
Phyllis A. Whitney is a renowned author well-loved by many. She has been the President of the Mystery Writers of America and has received their lifetime achievement award. But her novel entitled, The Singing Stones (1990) was not my favourite.
It is an enjoyable story. The characters are believable and, in some cases, very likeable (or hate-able, as their role requires). However, I found this relatively short novel quite repetitive (how many times can one read about a child psychologist’s irritation with a family that ignores a child in their midst, or a woman’s discomfort with being at her ex-husband’s home, or his treating his daughter by the woman he had an affair with and then married?). The convoluted family relationships are interesting. I found myself wondering what I would call my ex-husband’s father’s second wife’s new husband. On the other hand, the book involved a lot of new-age crystals, past life regressions, and touchy-feely stuff that I (sorry) just couldn’t easily accept. My failing, I freely admit.
I also picked up another oldie entitled, The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything, by John D. MacDonald (1962). This book is quite dated. Therefore, references to money, for example, are quite amusing, as $50 is considered big bucks, offering a lot to think about.
I think this is the only science fiction novel written by MacDonald (but don’t quote me on that). It certainly has a twist! The protagonist, a wimpy, quiet sort of man, is accused of having stolen $27 million of his uncle’s money, when in fact he has, according to his uncle’s instructions, literally given it away. Of course, it was given anonymously to various worthy causes and all records of the donations have been destroyed.
His inheritance from the uncle is a pocket watch, which turns out to have the ability to speed up time for the wearer so much that the regular world appears frozen. What he does with the watch, and why several groups of people appear to be after our hero are left for the reader to discover.
What would you do with the ability to move (apparently) infinitely quickly? Would you use the ability (as the hero’s uncle did) to make a fortune? Does absolute power, in fact, corrupt absolutely, or can one stay decent in the face of great opportunity to cheat?
It’s also interesting to note about the protagonist that he is incredibly clumsy, especially around attractive women. He’s terrified by them and has a tendency to drop things, trip, or accidentally hurt any women he’s near. This failing, of course, is cured by “The Girl” of the title, but it makes for a very amusing first half of the book.
This novel is clearly a period piece, as I mentioned before. It can be instructive and fun to read about the mores of another time. I’m too young to remember the 1950s and 1960s (unfortunately), but I’m told by some who have been there and read this book, that it is truly faithful to the time. That alone makes the novel worth the read. It is reminiscent, in its way, of early Heinlein novels of which I’ve read more than my share.
The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything is a very fun read, and I am a great admirer of MacDonald’s work. I’m sure others among you will enjoy it too.
MacDonald, J. D. (1962). The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything. New York: Ballantine.
Whitney, P. A. (1990). The Singing Stones. New York: Doubleday.