Old Familiar Faces

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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June 12, 2013

I think everyone has books–or other media–which feels as comfortable as a well-worn pair of pajamas. I thought I’d share a few of mine today.

Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

Elizabeth Enright’s Gone-Away Lake is a book I’ve loved since I was 8 or 9 years old. While there were always books around when I was growing up, there weren’t tons of books around–we were heavy library users–but this is one that was in our library and I can’t even count how many times I’ve read it.  The story is fairly simple: Portia and her younger brother Foster take a train to visit their cousin Julian for the summer.  Portia and Julian are about the same age, so they go off exploring together, as Julian and his parents have just moved to a new town.  They discover an abandoned resort community on the edge of a swamp–and the only two inhabitants left are a positively ancient pair of siblings, Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever.  Portia and Julian spend the rest of the summer at Gone-Away–and eventually Foster and their parents make their way there, too. This is a quiet little book full of quiet moments and I love it so. There’s an elegance to Enright’s prose that is timeless and I was pleased that it’s still appealing–a young reader of my acquaintance recently read it and enjoyed it very much indeed.

Aunt Dimity's Death, Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity’s Death, Nancy Atherton

Then there’s Nancy Atherton’s Aunt Dimity’s Death–I read a lot of mysteries in the years after I graduated college and the first two books in this series are perpetual keepers for me–after the first few, they get a bit precious with regards to the woo but the first one, in particular, is just so charming.  Lori Shepherd is at the bottom of a downward spiral: recently divorced and underemployed, her beloved mother has just died and she’s adrift. And then she gets a letter saying that Aunt Dimity died–except she didn’t know that Aunt Dimity had ever actually existed. Aunt Dimity had been the character in a series of stories that her mother had told Lori as she grew up and when she learns that Dimity had been real, the shock is nearly too much for her.  Luckily for her, the law offices of Willis and Willis are fully equipped to deal with her shock and Lori finds herself swept off to England where she’s set the task of fulfilling the terms of Aunt Dimity’s will: to compile the stories into a manuscript for publication.  She’s taken to a fairy tale cottage and is given access to her mother and Dimity’s 50 years of letters–and she discovers that Aunt Dimity may not be completely gone from this world after all.  And there’s unfinished business and wrongs to be put right–both in Lori’s life and in Dimity’s afterlife.  I’m honestly not objective enough about this book to say whether or not it’s any good, but it was one of those books I ran across right when I needed it, so I’m more than happy to overlook its flaws (which are: it’s twee as hell and I’m pretty sure the England and Scotland as described in this book doesn’t actually exist and I am totally okay with that but other people may not be).  Oh, and there’s a stuffed rabbit named Reginald, too.

A Room with a View

A Room with a View

Finally, there’s A Room with a View.  I love the book, but I love the movie even more.  I first saw this on Bravo in the late 1980’s–uncensored. So the bathing scene? A revelation to my 14 year old self.  Of course there’s more to recommend it than a bunch of men gamboling about a pond in the altogether!

I watch this movie at least once a year, if not more–there’s something about seeing Lucy struggle to figure out what she wants in life and the way she pushes against the strictures of her class and gender that I find very appealing. She’s been sheltered by her family and they are thrilled that she has agreed to marry Cecil Vyse–played to snobbish perfection by Daniel Day-Lewis (I am convinced that he actually stuck a stick up his butt for the part). But there’s also George Emerson–played to wooden perfection by Julian Sands (the woodenness is part of the charm)–who wants her to be fully herself (even if he does kiss her without asking her if it’s okay first).  And the supporting cast is just amazing, as are the locations, costumes, and music. It’s really a remarkable film and it’s held up so well.  The book is darker–Mr. Beebe is subtly misogynistic and the book is much less sympathetic to Charlotte as well.  And I always wonder what happened to the Honeychurches and the Emersons in the turbulent years to come–would they have been forced to sell the house? Would Freddy have returned from war physically and emotionally intact? How did Lucy’s life change after marrying George?  I suspect that things wouldn’t have gone well for any of them and the happy ending of the book and film is more of a happy-for-now than happy-ever-after.

I’d love to hear about your comfort reads in the comments–what books, music, or movies do you turn to when you want something familiar?  Me, I’ll be over here re-reading a Jenny Crusie book (Fast Women).

The title of this post? Comes from one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite performers, John Wesley Harding.  It’s called “$55” and here’s the first stanza:

I’m looking for those old familiar faces
In the places I left behind
All the Townsons, Barnes and Staces
And some good old friends of mine
Because everyone is someone
That I seem to recognize
Must be the old familiar faces
In their eyes

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