The opening to Music Man. My husband and I sat there staring at the screen, just waiting for something interesting to happen. The “think” system. Barbershop quartets. Hair dryer hats. “Shipoopi.”
Seriously, we were bored stiff. We thanked my mom for buying it for us and put it away—glad to be rid of it.
But that changed. One night when we were tired and bored, we decided to watch it. Because, frankly, we didn’t own any other movies and, as I said, we were bored. And lazy. Neither of us wanted to drive the 3/4 of a mile to the video store. No. Joke. That’s all it was.
So, we watched it. Again.
We loved it.
We still do. In fact, we quote it all the time. Kevin mentions growing up in Iowa, and I’ll say, “You are from Iiiiowaaaay!” Or someone asks for ice cream, and Kevin will say,
“Say iiiice creeeeammmm…”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said something about needing to get a few notions for a sewing project and he’s said,
“Debt is no good for a notions salesman.”
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What does this have to do with Behind the Scenes?
Not a whole lot—except that it’s how I felt about the opening of this book. I hate saying it, but until chapter eight, I was bored. Maybe I was just tired. I might have been too distracted by other things. Why it was, I don’t know. But in the interest of full disclosure, if I hadn’t committed to reviewing this book, I’d have closed it by the end of chapter 5.
Why five? Well, most new TV series, if I don’t like them, start getting interesting to me at around episode 4. So if I make it through five and don’t like it still, I’m done. There are too many other things to watch. Too many good books to read. I don’t need that kind of wasted time. And if I’d quit reading at chapter eight, I’d have missed out on a good book.
Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano: my thoughts.
Well, I’ll start with the plots. Turano began with a discreet gossip columnist at society functions and built upon that. At the event that opens this book, you see Permilia in her element, which is to say OUT of her element, and one by one, the plot layers overlap and create a rather beautiful rose. At the center—Permilia Griswold.
As a character, the girl is delightfully flawed. She’s both highly intelligent and rather obtuse—much as an absent-minded professor but in the social realm. I suspect readers will either love or hate the poor girl. Because, despite her winsomeness, she’s also rather annoying. I loved that about her.
But I am not naive about the kinds of characters people like from Victorian fiction. Many people really like strong female characters who are rather “perfect” with just a mistake or two in their makeup. This isn’t that character. Just have to put that out there. As for me, I liked that she annoyed me at times. I think it is part of why Permilia is such an engaging and endearing character.
Look, who wouldn’t just love a girl who shows up at the Vanderbilt’s house, loses a shoe, nearly destroys a dance, and then arrives at the dinner table and says,
“I do apologize, Stepmother, but I fear I have no choice but to abandon my manners because this is matter of life and death.” (note the absence of exclamation point!)
Silence settled over the table until Asher cleared his throat. “Whose death?”
C’mon. That’s genius right there. It may not seem like it out of context, but trust me it is.
Let’s talk about other characters.
Permilia is not the only memorable character. Ms. Turano has created quite a cast of realistic and unique characters that you don’t feel like you’ve ever met on the pages of a book but you do feel like you might have met in real life. I keep trying to compare Ida Griswold, Permilia’s step-mother, to Hyacinth Gibson from Wives and Daughters. But that’s so unjust—not only to Jen Turano but also to Ida and Hyacinth!
The Huxley sisters. Oh, how I loved them—and Mrs. Davenport.
The aforementioned Asher is quite a man as well. The way he is drawn to someone who is the antithesis of whom he thinks he admires is rather beautiful. Asher Rutherford also experiences a bit of a “life crisis.” He sees himself, or so he assumes, through others’ eyes and finds himself wanting as a man.
Look, we expect to see this of a middle-aged man in the 21st century. We do not expect to see it in a young man of 1883! And that kind of realistic but unexpected characterization is what I’m talking about.
Add to all of these a mini-mystery, orange skin, and a rather over-dramatic stepsister and no one can say that Ms. Turano does not create well-rounded and interesting characters.
I defy that notion!
One other wonderful thing was that although Permilia is not your typical Victorian miss, there’s a solid reason for it. She grew up outside of society—in mining camps far from the dictates of New York’s Knickerbocker set. Historically speaking, while I personally found the women’s movement stuff wearying after a while (I get rather tired of it in modern times, too—it’s just me), only once did something jerk me out of the time period.
It was a reference to something being “rather vanilla” (i.e. boring). I have no idea if that phrase was used that way back then, but even if it was, it’s so very current now that it felt too modern for the period. Sometimes perfectly acceptable terminology FEELS anachronistic even if it isn’t. That was it, and like I said, it probably was just me. LOVED that I didn’t get jerked out of the story every other minute. Too many authors do that to me.
So, if I love the characters and the plot ideas so much, why am I only giving it 4 stars?
First, I didn’t LOVE it. That’s Amazon’s rating system there. Loved it, Liked it, It’s okay, etc. I liked it. A lot, actually, but I only liked it. There are reasons I didn’t love Behind the Scenes.
It took me eight and a half chapters to get into it. That’s a long time. I suspect, however, that if I had time to reread, it wouldn’t this time. I really think that the problem there was mine. That said, I could be wrong about that, and I only say that because there were things about those chapters that I found… frustrating.
The excessive info-dumping. For those who dislike disguised info-dumping, and I’ll admit that I’m one of them, there is quite a bit of that. She does have a rather unique style to hers. Instead of writing, “As you know, Johnny, we’re expected to escort some young lady to the supper table…” She tried to make it sound as if the character mused aloud.
One particular instance was when Asher discusses why he has a membership at an exclusive club and why he now eats there so often. He tells his friend,
“That right there explains why I became uncomfortable being neglectful of our attendance, especially since I’ve never been a gentleman to embrace a wasteful nature.”
I’ll admit it. It’s annoying.
I mean, why would he inform his best friend whom, we’ve already discovered, knows him better than he knows himself, this little tidbit of information? Not only that, but as a reader, we already know about his fastidiousness, his punctuality, and similar bits of information. We know, without being told, that if he has this membership, there’s a reason. Furthermore, we know that if he’s eating there, he has a reason. We don’t need for him to inform himself of it for our benefit.
This happens a bit more than I’d like—okay, a LOT more. I’ll admit, I found it tedious. At one point, we’re informed at length of the stepsister’s father’s overindulgence of her. We didn’t need much if any of that information. It just bogged down the story, particularly as it was done.
But you know, by this point, Behind the Scenes was engaging enough that most people aren’t going to notice it. I only mention it because I know that I do have readers who will notice and who might be bothered by it. Usually, I would be more than I was. I honestly think the engaging plot and fabulous characters are what helped me move past it rather quickly.
There are other reasons that made it harder for me to enjoy the book at times, but they are rather personal quirks and not likely to affect anyone else’s reading experience.
All in all, if it weren’t for those aforementioned fabulous characters and a fun, engaging plot, I wouldn’t have finished the book or bothered to review it. But this book IS worth a read. It’s interesting and clever. And I’m glad I had to keep going, because once it GOT going, it was fun.
I’ve never read anything by Jen Turano before, but I will be reading more. I think I may discover that Behind the Scenes was an exception rather than the rule on the info-dumping. And that would be MARVELOUS if it was!