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Pickle Me This

July 18, 2019

A House Like A Lotus, by Madeleine L’Engle

Now here’s a shining lesson on why you should probably write down your thoughts about things and not rely on your brain to remember, because I read the next book in Madeleine L’Engle’s Polly O’Keefe series the week before our vacation, and now I can no longer recall my salient thoughts about the novel, which has since been returned to the library. Though I cannot wholly blame this predicament on my poor brain, because part of the problem is that this novel is blending together with the Austin series into a kind of primordial L’Engle soup. Precocious heroine who is misunderstood and feels she fails to measure up in comparison to her siblings (and, in this case, her impressive cousin Kate); air travel to a foreign destination (Greece!); and she even runs to Zachary Grey (ugh) though it is to Polly’s credit that she’s far less taken with him than Vicky Austin had been.

Partly because Polly has other things on her mind—she is flying to Greece because of an opportunity arrived at by arrangement of her mentor, an older woman who has betrayed Polly in a serious way. What exactly Max has done to Polly is not made entirely clear in the text (Mari Ness, whose reviews of these books I’ve so appreciated as I’ve read them myself, suggests that Max, a lesbian, has made sexual advances to Polly, but I thought the situation was more than Max was ragingly drunk and turned into a bit of a monster, which was really upsetting for Polly to see—she’s only sixteen—because Max was someone she really admired and respected) and the novel moves between Polly’s present situation en-route to and in Greece, and then to her reflections on her relationship with Max, the way it unfolded and fell apart.

Zachary Grey was useful in this book for once (although it true Zachary Grey style, he takes Polly on a reckless adventure and then nearly kills her due to his selfishness and impetuosity) because Polly realizes the way in which she permits this (supposedly) charismatic and exciting young man in her life to be complicated and problematic, but does not offer the same latitude in her considerations of Max and others.

It was also illuminating to read a bit more about Meg Murry O’Keefe, firmly ensconced in her domestic role, who explains at one point that she has arranged her life as such because she felt neglected as a child by her own mother’s career focus and wanted her children to have a different experience. (And now I’m imagining a terrific story underlying this, though I expect it was not L’Engle’s intent, but imagine if you’d had the adventures Meg Murry had in the Wrinkle in Time series? How would you raise your children understanding that the universe is so expansive, strange and dangerous, and that one of your precious babies might tesser into another dimension at any time??? Could that turn you unto something of a helicopter mom? [Although Polly’s parents certainly do permit free rein, as demonstrated by the adventures Polly has got up to so far in the series…] Also, once you’ve been to the limits of space and time, might you consider a career on earth overrated? Would Meg Murry not find all these considerations, actually, a little boring?)

Anyway, I liked this book, though it did not rock my socks and I kind of skimmed the parts once Polly arrives at the retreat where she’s been assigned to make beds for days and days. One more Polly book before me—An Acceptable Time, which I had as a child but never finished—so this whole thing is kind of full circle.

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