Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Literary Best Friend

Distant father…housekeeper slash surrogate mother…pretty-boy boyfriend (according to the northern half of Evelyn David)…a trio of interesting girl friends, one a tomboy, one an obsessive eater, one a giant fraidy-cat…these are my adult recollections and interpretations of my favorite sleuth and heroine, Nancy Drew.

But when I was a child? She was literary gold. I had received a few of the 1959 editions from my older, goddess-like next-door neighbor, Maureen. If Maureen recommended the Nancy Drew books, then by golly, I was going to read each and every one of them. (And for proof of Maureen’s regalness, you need only know her nickname from her five brothers: “Maureen the Queen.” They shared one bedroom in the small Cape Cod next door; Maureen had the other bedroom, complete with canopy bed. But I digress.) She dropped off the books, now too old to enjoy them, and told me to start with “The Secret of the Old Clock.” I think I was about nine at the time. I finished the book and I was hooked.

A couple of thing struck me about Nancy:

1. Nancy drove a roadster. A what? Figuring out that it was just a sporty car didn’t take too long but I wondered why Carolyn Keene didn’t just call it a car. Then I grew up and became a mystery writer myself and realized that there are just so many ways to say that so-and-so “got in her car and drove away.” I’m trying to figure out a way for Alison Bergeron to refer to her car as a roadster but I haven’t been able to quite work that out yet.

2. Nancy eschewed all things in bad taste. Remember when those irascible Topham sisters were mean to the sales girls at the department store? Or when the aforementioned sales girl gossiped to Nancy about Josiah Crowley? Nancy looked down on both. Me? I am never mean to sales girls but do enjoy idle gossip. Alison Bergeron, for one, wouldn’t be able to solve mysteries without idle gossip, conjecture, or jumping to conclusions. Nancy frowned on all three.

3. Nancy loved a bargain. When one of those infernal Topham sisters ripped one of the dresses in the department store, Nancy asked for a discount. And got it! 50% off the retail price! That girl had some shopping cojones.

4. Nancy pretended that her father was fascinating. Sure, it was one way to get the information she so needed to solve the case but, boy, could this girl massage a man’s ego or what? Just read one passage of her dining with good old Carson Drew and you can see why he was putty in her hands. And why he gave her access to everything she needed to solve her cases.

5. Nancy was multi-talented. She possessed basic first aid skills, was a strong swimmer, could sail, and considered herself a “dog tender” (see The Bungalow Mystery). Nancy had an impressive intellect and a sharp wit. Was it the function of hanging around her widowed father and middle-aged housekeeper or was she just born that way? I never could figure that out.

6. Nancy is true to her friends. She never tells her female friend, George Fayne, to knock it off and go by her given name, Georgia, nor does she tell plump friend, Bess Marvin, to lay off Hannah’s scones and jam. Helen Corning, who appears in the first book in the series and then, later on, takes an extended jaunt to Europe, doesn’t have the stomach for sleuthing but Nancy never brings it up. Just imagine those girls on “The Hills” being so accepting of their compadres. Nancy is the alpha girl but never lets it show, never lauds it over her posse. She’s the smartest, the hippest, and wears all of these characteristics with grace and class.

Maureen the Queen and I discussed every Nancy Drew that she had given me after I had read them once. And when I was done, I read them again, because this was in the days before the ubiquitous Barnes and Noble or the easy access that Amazon affords us modern-day folk. My 1959 editions are dog-eared, a little water-logged (the flood of ’73 that soaked everything in our basement saw to that), and yellowed from age. But the memories that I get when I crack open one of the three that are left on my bookshelf cannot be described, even by me, the writer. It’s memories of my older and cooler friend, Maureen, it’s memories of finding a girl to whom I could relate, it’s memories of a time gone by when we played outside from dusk ‘til dawn, when we read books over and over again and committed them to memory.

So her father was distant, she was raised by a housekeeper, and she had a curious gaggle of friends. Didn't matter and never will. Nancy Drew was and always will be my literary best friend.


Maggie Barbieri

4 comments:

  1. I am sorry to hear your books got water-logged. I keep mine in my bedroom and still keep my girl series books there. Since Nancy did not have a mother she spent a lot of time with her friends.

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  2. She was only Georgia in the revised/later versions. Originally, she's actually named George after a relative (grandfather?). She enjoys the name, and living up to it.

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  3. Frankly, I can't remember all the interesting details about Nancy that everyone else has posted--only remember how much I loved the books.

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  4. Oh and one more thing, my mom actually had a roadster when she drove from her home in South Pasadena to UCLA every day. One thing I remember her telling us about that car is that it had a lot of flat tires and she and her sister always fixed them.

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