Love in the summer stock wings
A newly published book by a young Madeleine L'Engle.
Who doesnâ€™t dream of just one more book by their favorite author â€“ a sequel to â€śStuart Littleâ€ť buried in E.B. Whiteâ€™s Maine barn, say, or news that Harper Lee has been sitting on a follow-up to â€śTo Kill a Mockingbirdâ€ť all these years? So a new novel by Newbery Award-winner Madeleine Lâ€™Engle is, by definition, cause for rejoicing.
A few caveats, though: The Joys of Love (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 272 pp.; $16.95) actually isnâ€™t Lâ€™Engleâ€™s last book â€“ it was written in the 1940s, well before â€śA Wrinkle in Timeâ€ť catapulted her to classic childrenâ€™s literature status. Her agent didnâ€™t want to take the book on, so Lâ€™Engle later gave the manuscript to her granddaughters to enjoy. The book reads more like a period piece than a young adult novel â€“ full of trips to the Automat, dirndl skirts, and endearing postwar slang. Readers will appreciate it most if they approach it like a newly discovered artifact rather than a work by a mature writer.
The plot is simple: A 20-year-old orphan wins a scholarship to a summer theater. The work is unrelenting drudgery, the manager is a notorious tightwad, and apprentices arenâ€™t allowed to watch the professionals rehearse, but Elizabeth couldnâ€™t be happier. Her cup runneth over when a young director starts paying attention to her. (Itâ€™s immediately clear to readers that Kurt is just using her, if only by the condescending way he calls her â€śliebchenâ€ť; Elizabeth, bless her, is a little slower on the uptake.) Meanwhile, the tall assistant stage manager is waiting patiently in the wings for his turn as her leading man. Then, Elizabethâ€™s magical summer is cut short by her Aunt Harriet, whoâ€™s convinced the troupe is a hotbed of iniquity (which, hey, it probably is) and announces sheâ€™s cutting off her funds for room and board.
Thereâ€™s a foreword by one of Lâ€™Engleâ€™s granddaughters detailing the ways in which the â€śThe Joys of Loveâ€ť draws on Lâ€™Engleâ€™s own life, which will be of great interest to fans. Younger readers probably will need some explanation of 1940s mores to understand why Elizabethâ€™s Aunt Harriet is so upset by the easy mixing between the sexes at the summer theater camp. The writing is intensely sincere â€“ thereâ€™s none of Meg Murryâ€™s angry awkwardness, no questions of science or theology, and everything is neatly tidied up by the end of a long weekend. Donâ€™t start a young reader here â€“ definitely hand them â€śA Wrinkle in Timeâ€ť or â€śMeet the Austinsâ€ť first. But a theater-loving teen might just get a kick out of Elizabethâ€™s old-fashioned adventures.
In fact, thatâ€™s who will probably most appreciate â€śThe Joys of Loveâ€ť â€“ along with grad students doing theses on Lâ€™Engleâ€™s work and ardent fans, grateful for a last chance to dip into something new by the author.
Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.