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Love Walked In

June 3, 2015

FullSizeRender (8)Another novel I finished reading while spending a good part of the day lolling about on the bed with the new kitten– who is still partially confined to our bedroom while Sabrina and Tristan get used to having him in the house and he gets used to the idea of eating solid food and using a litterbox—is Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos. I picked this one up because Jenny says she likes the way this author writes female characters.

I actually started reading this in the Cedar Rapids airport, a dark and quiet place with almost everything closed up at 6 pm on a Saturday. Walker and I were waiting for my mother, after 10 hours of driving from Ohio to Iowa. He was finishing writing a paper, as his semester hadn’t quite ended. I opened up Love Walked In and was immediately at sea because of the way the narrators switch off. I was hardly introduced to Cornelia, a 30-something woman who was “treading water and had been for some time,” before the point of view switched to Clare, an 11-year-old with a glamorous mother and an absent father. I didn’t immediately like Clare, whose only virtue seems to be that she’s not much of a whiner. I did like Cornelia, however, not least because of her occasional asides that assume you would see things the way she sees them if you were in the same situation, and the movie-star references she makes to get you to see someone else as she sees them—glamorous and larger than life.

Clare tells the maid that her father looks at her “like he can’t wait for me to be over,” and I was immediately sympathetic to his point of view; I couldn’t wait for her chapter to be over and to learn more about Cornelia, who is falling in love with a man with whom she has interesting and sometimes rapid-fire conversations, including one about names that I quite enjoyed: “He told me he loved my name, how there were a handful of women’s names that turned all other women’s names into cotton candy, and my name was in the handful.…Eleanor, Mercedes, Augusta.”

I began to like Clare a little bit when she figures out that her mother needs to be taken care of and she makes a list of characters who “had let life make them hateful” so she won’t go too far down that track. The list includes “Miss Havisham, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, Miss Minchin, Uriah Heep, Voldemort, Snape.” But then Clare doesn’t get help for her mother. She’s 11 years old; you think she could tell someone that her mother needs help. But no, she hides her mother’s growing incapacity to function until it becomes frighteningly full-blown.

FullSizeRender (9)Cornelia and her lifelong friend and brother-in-law Teo feel sorry for Clare, whose father turns out to be the man Cornelia has been falling in love with. Except once she meets Clare, Cornelia begins falling in love with the child and out of love with the father. Clare makes supposedly “heartbreaking” lists of how to take care of herself and not let anyone know her mother is past being able to do that for her. Cornelia believes that “Clare was a marvel, resourceful and imaginative and brave, the kind of girl you usually only found in books organizing orphan uprisings or saving the world from the forces of evil.” I believe that Cornelia is infantilizing Clare because of a newly-discovered longing to mother someone.

In the end, Cornelia turns out to have a big, happy family who welcome Clare into their bosom, and she gets left a house from an elderly neighbor who died, so that when Clare’s mother comes back into the picture, they can share the house with Clare. At least that’s the conventionally happy-ending way the book looks like it’s going to end until Clare’s mother actually turns out to have a personality and asks Cornelia to let her live in the house with Clare while Cornelia travels around to find out what her heart’s desire might be. Athough Clare does her best at throwing a temper tantrum designed to make Cornelia stay, Cornelia points out that Clare now has her whole family there to help, whenever she and her mom need it. Finally, Clare gives in and allows Cornelia, who has now fallen in love with Teo, to pursue her own dreams while staying a part of Clare’s life, the first sign I saw that she would want to.

FullSizeRender (7)The more I read, the less patient I felt with Clare’s antics, kind of how I let Pippin play with my free hand like it was another kitten until this morning, when Pippin has gotten big enough to get his jaw around enough of my hand to really hurt when he bites. Increasingly, I’ve been wearing a sock on my hand to play with the kitten. As of today, I’ll have to stop letting him play with my hand. Because part of loving a kitten or someone else’s abandoned child should be helping them learn the difference between the kind of impulses that are okay to act on and the kind of impulses which need to be shaped by the way they affect other people. I don’t buy this novel’s message that love makes everything okay, whether you fall in love with your sister’s husband or treat an 11-year-old like you would a much younger child.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2015 4:43 pm

    I was with Mumsy — I thought if anything, Marisa de los Santos made Clare seem older than her years, in terms of how responsible she was able to be, and how much she was able to maintain the illusion that everything was fine. But her inability to ask for help, I thought rang very true: It’s clear that her mother is a mess, and also, the ways in which her mother is a mess don’t make any sense when you describe them. Clare didn’t have the words to explain it, just that feeling of wrongness, which again, rang very true to me. That feeling of wrongness that you can’t exactly explain is a childhood phenomenon there should be a word for because it is super common but insufficiently described in fiction.

    Anyway, the fairy-tale-ness of the ending is a very valid complaint. All her books are that way. Belong to Me is maaaaaaaybe a better book than this one, although it won’t make you like Clare any better, but that one has quite the fairy-tale ending as well. On the up side, one of the narrating characters is a woman called Piper who finds Cordelia irritating in a way that, frankly, one would find Cordelia irritating. It’s a nice show of self-awareness from the author.

    • June 4, 2015 9:52 am

      That’s a good point, about how children can feel something wrong but don’t have the words to explain it. The author tried to show that with the towels, but failed.
      In general, I don’t mind fairy-tale endings on books like this one, but I’ve gotten more and more irritated in the last few years with stories about divorced women (Dorothea Benton Frank novels) or misfit men (St. Vincent) who, despite their flaws, attract a bunch of friends who become like family and they all live happily ever after together. If those people were so appealing in the first place, why didn’t anyone from their first family stick with them?
      As you can see, I’m not reacting to anything about this novel in particular–Cornelia didn’t have a first family, other than her own. She does have an odd attitude about how they’re all playing a role in the happiness of the family but they’re not “intimate” with each other the way she would like. (Snark warning: maybe the “intimacy” of her mother’s advice to go ahead and sleep with her brother-in-law is a sample of what she’s been longing for.)

  2. June 4, 2015 9:46 am

    I’m copying Mumsy’s response, given elsewhere, here, so it stays a part of my thinking about this novel. There’s another response from another friend of mine in the middle, about how old one usually is in 5th grade, and then my response to Mumsy:

    Mumsy: Aww, sorry you didn’t like it. I like this author’s kindness to her characters. I was surprised that you thought the heroine was infantilizing the eleven-year-old; I was thinking that the author made the child far too mature and self-aware. Eleven years old is 4th grade, right? Fifth? I’ve seen kids that age who are trying to take care of their families and it’s pretty painful to watch. Also, that kid would have been slapped into foster care in a New York second (no family), and foster care is kind of horrifying. So her decisions were actually pretty understandable to me.

    11 is 5th/6th grade.

    Jeanne: I reacted to how she didn’t seem to care about her mother except as caretaker–almost shades of her father. But you make a good point about foster care and what kind of kid would know about the dangers of it.

  3. June 14, 2015 3:40 pm

    I read this years ago and I get what you’re saying but I think a lot of our media these days portrays the same message. I’m not saying that’s okay, though. I think I liked the book more than you did.

    • June 14, 2015 10:17 pm

      The same message that any kind of behavior can be excused if a person is in love?
      Probably I should give this author more than one chance.

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