Sunday, June 7, 2009

Both Sides of Time


I think this is the only character I really hate more than the girl from the Terrorist. She's so condescending, it burns. Readers, meet Annie Lockwood. She's a beautiful, romantic, but intensely self absorbed and stupid teenager from 1995 who seems to love meddling where she doesn't belong.

No, no, no, don't demean Cher like that! Annie's even more self absorbed than everyone's favorite updated Jane Austen character. So, Annie's got this attractive (but dumb) boyfriend, Sean, who's all about working on cars, and doesn't give a crap about things like buying bonbons and flowers for Annie or taking his girlfriend to the local megaplex to swoon over Keanu (cool, that makes two of us). This summer, Annie's thinking what a disappointment her unromantic boyfriend is and wondering how she can mold him into someone she can be proud of, like the guy from Kate and Leopold or Mr. Darcy or some other walking cliche. Our Annie wishes she could go back to a time when men valued romance, when courtship mattered. (And where the status of her hymen was a bigger deal than the thoughts in her head because clearly Annie has a slightly better chance than having some of the former.)

On the last day of school, Sean's working on his ride outside the town's huge mansion, Stratton Point, which is going to be torn down soon. Annie goes to visit him. She wanders into the mansion and falls back 100 years in time. (Tell me you didn't see that one coming!) She sees something odd on a staircase, and then she's in 1895 where meets a cute eighteen year old boy by the name of Hiram Stratton, Jr. His friends call him Strat (so I'll be referring to him as Hiram Stratton, Jr.--no, I kid, but only because writing out his full name would be too annoying for words). Strat lives at the mansion with his sister, father, and house full of servants. Strat marvels at Annie's wanton ways--her lack of a hat, her tendency to call men she's barely met by their first name--and the two giggle and make eyes at each other on the beach. Lurve! Good thing I stocked up on Tums.

Along the way, Annie meets Devonny (Strat's younger sister), Harriett (who's engaged to be engaged to Strat), Walker Walkley (Strat's devil may care best friend who stalks about seducing maids and hopes to marry Devonny for her money), Aunt Ada (Harriett's creepy chaperone, since Harriett is a rich orphan), and ugly old Mr. Rowwells who wants everyone to invest in his awesome idea of having mayonnaise come pre-jarred (I make a mental note to buy stock). Anyway, it turns out that one of the servants, Matthew, is dead. Pushed down the stairs. Devonny suspects foul play. The Irish maid, Bridget, gets framed for it at first, but it turns out that Mr. Rowwells and Aunt Ada did it. They conspired to get Harriett engaged to Mr. Rowwells instead and then plan to bump off Harriett and split the money. Matthew the servant overheard this and he had to be destroyed.

Florinda, Mr. Stratton's wife du jour (yeah, Mr. Stratton's one of those guys who's midway through a midlife crisis at all times, always trading in for a younger model of wife and horseful carriage) spies on Harriett and Mr. Rowwells up in the tower towards the end and realizes that Mr. Rowwells plans to kill Harriett. Mr. Rowwells tells Harriett his fiendish plan before trying to push her out of the tower, but then Florinda takes a gun and shoots him. Everyone figures out it was Mr. Rowwells and Aunt Ada. Then, at the end Annie goes forward in time again, leaving the love of her life behind. Lame. She went back in time and it wasn't for some cool purpose like making sure her parents fell in love or meeting George Carlin?

Let's see, what else am I leaving out of this strained, strained plot. Strat and Annie flirting a lot. Me making several trips to the bathroom. Several iterations of Mr. Stratton pounding his fist on the desk and screaming, "You will marry Harriett, not this tramp!" and Strat defiantly saying, "I love that tramp, I mean, she's not a tramp, really, not when you get to know her, I mean, aside from the whole appearing out of nowhere without a hat or garter belt, you see-" and Mr. Stratton being all, "I HAVE NO SON" and it's all very Jazz Singer, really. On to the snark points.
  • In 1995, Annie and all the other girls wear long white dresses on the last day of school. For no good reason other than the fact that CaroB. needed Annie to wear a white dress to fall back in time wearing something somewhat suitable? Though in 1895, Annie looks very, very slutty. Strat certainly gives her the eye. Uncovered ankles! You can see her bare circuits!
  • CaroB. once again illustrates her distinct lack of imagination and/or creativity. My favorite character? Walker Walkley, man about town. (Did you know that your last name's an adverb?) Between him and Billy Williams (in other words, William Williams) of The Terrorist, I'm thinking that if Scholastic won't pay for good writers, they at least have to spring for someone who will come up with better names. Anyroad, as far as "bad guys" go, Walker Walkley is the Percy the Small Engine of nemeses. He's down on his luck money wise, even though he's upper class, so he sponges off friends like Strat. He tries to seduce the maid, Bridget, by grabbing ass and going "Hey, I can has SEX now? kthnxbai."

She spits in his face and then tells him that if he's not careful he'll end up like the servant, Matthew. Which is to say dead. Get it? She's all fiery-tempered? 'Cause she's Irish?
  • Oh, forget someone to come up with new character names. How about a continuity editor. Like for the part when Annie departs for the previous century, Sean doesn't notice her bike is left behind, but it's supposed to be a grave signal to the reader that Something Is Amiss. Then when she's with Strat, he's surprised to see a second bicycle next to his (Annie's), and the two race off on their bikes. Then when she's back in her own time, she notices her bike that apparently never made the journey back. Do they do this to torment me? They must. It probably takes more work to make these glaring errors than it does to remember there's a bicycle.
  • When Strat introduces Annie to Harriett and Devonny, they goggle at him because bringing back hatless, short skirted Annie is the 1895 equivalent of bringing home an overweight prostitute in a glow in the dark tube top and then taking a crap in a plastic bag. But in any case, the girls take Annie up to Harriett's room because they want to help her more look like a lady of the day. Also, because CaroB. figured she could win brownie points with the librarians if she put in a chapter where present day girls could learn some historical points of fashion in 1895. Annie looks surprised to see no facial cosmetics on Harriett's vanity, despite seeing lots of hair combs and jewelry. Imagined excised dialogue: Back in 1895, uh, I mean, today, women didn't wear cosmetics on the face unless they were actresses, whores, or cheap hussies, Harriett says, eying Annie's painted face. (Duh. Ladies pinch. Whores use rouge.) Then while being laced up with a corset, Annie asks the other two girls if they aren't always fainting. They explain that fainting is ladylike. More excised dialogue: Back in 1895, we didn't know about female liberation! I half expect Annie to inquire about hysteria, another thing she learned about in history class, and for them to break out an early vibrator prototype.
  • CaroB. seems to take a special pleasure in describing Harriett. She'll never have a wasp waist no matter how much they corset her, she's got thin, mousy hair, crooked teeth, etc. Annie looks over at Harriett's dress and thinks how beautiful it is. "And Harriett, poor Harriett, was not. She just wasn't pretty. Annie's heart broke for all plain girls in all centuries...she saw the terrible contrast between herself and Harriett." Go away, Annie. You're bothering me. Away with ye, to the Twilight Zone episode where the standard of beauty is bulldog faced people and where pretty girls make graves are subjected to endless surgery!

  • Annie explains that she is a Lockwood (Anna Sophia Lockwood to be precise) when the girls ask her name. She asks Bridget, the maid who's helping her dress, about her roots and Harriett explains "'She's Irish' if saying she's sub-human." Ooh. Forget meeting a guy whose first and last name are the same, this is way cooler. A real live walking stereotype. Also, I can forgive Harriett being all racist and classist since she's a product of her time. Annie takes to being a member of the elite class awfully fast, though.
  • Let's see, more reasons to hate Annie. Later that night, after dancing with Strat all night at a party at the mansion, Annie relaxes in a guest bedroom. As Bridget brushes Annie's hair, she thinks, "Everybody should be pampered like this...Of course, nobody will do it for Bridget, and that's where it all breaks down, but I might as well enjoy it anyway." After this scene ends, I imagine Annie leaning back and sighing contentedly, wondering if she'll have time to visit the Hottentot Venus this week, then opening up the Modest Proposal that Harriett loaned her, and wondering just why the Irish really can't eat their own young. Oh, days of Empire!
  • Annie realizes how chauvinist men were back then when Strat tells Devonny she won't be allowed to join the Red Cross. God, it's taken you this long? Have you never actually had a history lesson? Heard of the suffragettes? Seen Mary Poppins? But then she, "realize[s] that Sean [controls] her as fully as the Stratton men [control] Devonny. And [she lets] him." Uh, you just told us that his big flaw was that he barely even acknowledges you. Unless you're referring to the fact that he asks you to hand him muddy wrenches when he's pimping his ride. Yeah, Annie, that's right. It's totally like rereading Taming of the Shrew. Sean being the poor put upon Katherine, of course.
  • Harriett's sad that Strat doesn't pay her any attention now that Annie's in town. Suddenly creepy Mr. Rowwells isn't looking so disgusting. Well, I mean, when you stand him up next to a chimp or Perez Hilton. She spends a lot time of time talking to Mr. Rowwells on the night of the party. The next morning at breakfast, Strat and Annie are busy blowing each other kisses when they think no one's looking (no, I'm not making this up, and two, you can't throttle them, gentle reader, because I've got dibs on that) when suddenly Harriett makes her engagement announcement. Strat thinks it's rude of her to do so publicly because he doesn't have time to figure out how to react. So it's okay for you to play footsie with the bare ankled hussy but not for your sort of fiancee to get a life of her own.
  • But there's no time to dwell on matters of marriage. The po-po's are here because Devonny called them to investigate Matthew's death. Even though her father forbade her from doing so when they found Matthew's body yesterday. (Devonny, and I, both inquired, "Why?" and Big Daddy Stratton replied, "I need a good way to look cruel, imperious, and vaguely suspicious to the kids reading this piece of crap we're in."). So Mr. Rowwells reveals the identity of Matthew's killer (I refrain from smacking Mr. Rowwells, but ask why the fuck he waited this long if he knew all along and he responds, " one asked. Want to hear about my idea for mayonnaise?").
  • Hellmann Rowwells gets up in Anna Sophia's grill and is all J'accuse! and she runs off. Because that'll do wonders for your credibility. Is there a white bronco in the stable you can ride off on to make yourself look any guiltier? As she attempts to escape, it's no use. "Being outside won't save me, she thought. Only time will save me." I swear to god, Caroline B. Cooney's prose gets even more edgy and insightful the drunker I get. Strat screams at her to stop. It turns out that Mr. Rowwells was pointing at Bridget, not Annie. "'Just a fight between servants!'" as Strat puts it. Oh, well, that's all right then.
  • Back at Chateau Stratton, Walker Walkley walks (yes, I've been waiting to do that) in and corroborates Mr. Rowwells' story by informing everyone what an evil character Bridget is. He tells the waiting crowd that yesterday Bridget savagely threw herself at him and wouldn't take "No means no" for an answer: "This prostitute attacked me, you can see she left her mark!" But now who will save little Cosette from from the evil Thernardiers? The gendarmes drag Bridget off, screaming, "Faith and begorra," counting her rosary beads, and wondering about the fate of her Lucky Charms.
  • Annie goes back. Back to the future! Enter my favorite character. An overworked pissed off cop who finds wayward Annie as soon as she returns and doesn't take any guff. It turns out time was going on even when she was gone, so her parents are freaking out. The cop yells at her, "'You just went off, without letting anybody know where or why, the way stupid thoughtless teenagers do.'" Yes! Though I'd love Nameless Police Cop much better if he'd screech at her for not knowing the concept of class conflict, but oh well. Maybe Freddy Engels can pop up when Annie's traveling through history yet AGAIN to yell stuff about the distribution of labor.
  • So, while Annie's back in 1995 for a while, time still goes on for the people of 1895. Devonny and Florinda ask Mr. Stratton to free Bridget because Bridget was walking in the garden holding Florinda's parasol when the murder happened. Mr. Stratton says he went to the jail to free Bridget. Only he was lying. (Note to Devonny and Florinda, next time you want to free someone, write a song about it. The title Hurricane isn't taken yet, either.) Devonny thinks all is well. Strat's sad, but I don't care. While I focus on the murder, I assume Strat holes up in his room with Ankles from Around the Globe and Barely Corseted (You Can See Their Bare Chemises!).
  • So, Devonny, a lovesick Strat, and Walker Walkley head to New York City to visit Mr. Stratton's first wife (Devonny and Strat's mother). At least we don't have to hear Devonny bragging to Walker about how she and Strat are bi-statal and doesn't that totally compensate for coming from a broken home? (Dawn Schafer, are you listening?) Along the way, Annie time travels back again for no real reason (c'mon, CaroB., would it kill you to come up with a time travel device of some sort? it doesn't have to be an outdated but hilarious looking car--it could even be a vortex), and then Devonny runs into Bridget's ex, Jeb. Ooh, awkward. No, actually, he mentions that he's just come from prison where he was visiting Bridget and then Devonny realizes that Father lied.
  • When the Scooby gang realizes that Bridget's still in jail (god, Bridge, you and Shazzer should NEVER have shacked up with that dubious American in Thailand), they head out. Devonny shrieks, "'We must rescue her forthwith!'" Annie and I both think, "Forthwith? Really?" Except that I'm internally snarking while Annie is loving this bizarre word usage and thinking what a great sister-in-law Devonny will make. Oh yeah, your marriage to Strat. Cool, maybe you can disrupt the space time continuum on your honeymoon.
  • At that moment, Annie reveals that Aunt Ada and Mr. Rowwells killed Matthew. How does she know? Oh, she just now remembered that she saw something weird on the stairs when she first traveled through time. She heard the sound of Aunt Ada's silk shawl and smelled Mr. Rowwell's pipe. Oh, good, because no one else back then smoked pipes or wore shawls. Contrivance, thy name is CaroB.
  • Then it turns out that Walker Walkley also lied about Bridget, so Strat cuts him off and tells him he's on his own. Strat is shocked that Walker would lie. (So am I. Walker Walkley wasn't in on the murder plot. It makes absolutely no sense that he would lie. Who edited this book? CaroB's dog? At one point Walker says something to himself about trying to get engaged to Harriett because he wants to marry up, so maybe in a previous draft, this plot point actually made sense.) As it happens, Strat takes matters of honor seriously. He remembers fondly the poem they had to learn at school that went: "How could I love you, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." He tells Walker that this is not how gentlemen act as Annie looks on adoringly. Then Annie comes in her bloomers a little as Strat starts reciting The White Man's Burden.
  • Up in the tower, while all this is going on, Harriett and Mr. Rowwells talk. Mr. Rowwells, as I said, almost kills Harriett, after telling her how he seduced her by making her feel beautiful, but really just wanted her money even though he really finds her repulsive. (Too bad you don't live in the future, Mr. Rowwells, because you, Ivana Trump, Anna Nicole Smith, and the Billy Wilder character from Sunset Blvd. could so form a support group.) And what is Harriett thinking? "I don't want to be plain! I didn't want to live out my life plain, and I don't want to die plain." Aw. Well, would you be cool with shuffling off this mortal coil if we had some rhinoplasty and lipo available first?
  • Back at the ranch, Florence shoots Mr. Rowwells (no, he's not dead, he's just injured--walk it off, MayoMan!), Aunt Ada is dragged off, Harriett cries because Strat's heart belongs to Annie, and everyone's favorite spunky Irish maid is freed. Annie decides that even though she loves Strat, she must go back to the future and tend to her own garden. Plus, she thinks that poor, ugly Harriett deserves Strat more than Annie does because even though Strat won't burn for Harriett as he burns for Annie, he'll be kind to her. And that's all a plain girl like Harriett can hope for. So whatever Yenta brings, Harriett will take, right? Of course, right. Oops, wrong work of art. Incidentally, it's too bad Strat can't get that burning checked out.
In conclusion, I hated Annie Lockwood as a wee Sadako. I hate her even more now. Really, it's not even a guilty pleasure like The Face on the Milk Carton. The whole time I was reading this I was wishing I could put it down and pick up Daughters of Eve or Killing Mr. Griffin. Now, since CaroB. wrote a total of four Annie Lockwood time traveling books (what nerve, even Zemeckis limited himself to only three time traveling films), the question is do I put myself through reading even more of this crap? I vaguely remember tuberculosis playing a role later on in the series. C'mon, don't you want to see me snark sanitariums?