I love twins, have I ever mentioned that? I’m a Gemini, the sign of the twins, so maybe I’ll believe in astrology long enough to attribute my obsession to that, but more likely it’s merely due to my own feverish mind. But in any case, I just love twins. All multiple births, in fact, but especially identical twins. I’m convinced I was one. OK, now we’re getting into an area that’s probably best saved for a different type of blog. But the point is, if you’ve read this particular addition to the venerated Canby Hall canon, you might think that my deep affection for wombmates would lead me to also love this book, but … what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh that’s right. NO.
No place to start but the start. As usual Faith is killing herself taking pictures, this time in order to apply for an internship at the Washington Sentinel, a newspaper in her hometown that is not the Post and apparently has very stringent requirements for the kids who fetch coffee for them. Anyway, as the story opens, Pernicious Pamela, despite hating Faith and her friends, accosts Faith on campus and tells her, apropos of nothing, that she has finally truly fallen in love, that she now sees the world differently, and that she thinks she and Faith should be friends from now on. “When you love one person as deeply as I love — oh, I can’t share his name …” Pamela babbles as bystanders look around for her Haldol. Her reticence regarding Lover Boy’s name will turn out to be mighty convenient. I know, I’m a psychic.
As Faith tells her roommates about her odd encounter, we get the following statement:
“Now wait a minute,” Dana interrupted. “We’ve had more than our share of trouble with Pamela. You know what we’ve learned, right?” Shelley looked at Dana with admiration. Dana always was logical, as well as chic, gorgeous, and SO New York City.
You know, it must be just awesome to be Dana. No matter what you do, whether it’s clipping your toenails or climbing Mount Everest, you’re showered with adulation. Just remembering to breathe gets you voted Prom Queen. I mean honestly.
Anyway, the girls forget about Pamela. Randy’s ignoring Dana because it’s foaling season, so that conveniently gets him out of the way for the duration of this book. I guess now they’re not dating, so she’s not technically cheating on him this time, not that that ever stopped her before. So Dana mentions that she has to babysit for her Latin teacher’s terror of a son because she was late to class and missed a pop quiz. How on earth can that be compatible with school policy, for a student to go to a teacher’s house and provide involuntary labour? And why would any sane person want to leave their child with an unwilling, tardy teenager? These are questions whose answers we will never receive. In any case, Dana goes to babysit for 3-year-old Lester the Horrible. His dog gets tangled up in its leash so Dana begs the cute next-door neighbour to help. The neighbour, Mac McAllister, saves the dog, flirts with her, and asks for her number. Big surprise, since apparently everyone including the kitchen sink falls for Dana Morrison.
Dana goes home and blathers on to her roommates about Mac’s wonderful qualities, including his uneven eyebrow arch. Shelley decides they should all go as clowns to the upcoming costume dance to give her an opportunity to learn about costumes and makeup, important skills for a woman of the theat-ah such as herself. Dana and Shelley go shopping for supplies and run into Pamela, who tells them not to go to the department store because they have terrible selection, oh and also a gas leak. They ignore her and go anyway, where they encounter Mac, who doesn’t seem very interested in talking to Dana. Shelley agrees that Mac is hot.
Faith has like eighteen categories of photos she has to submit for this ridiculous newspaper internship application even though you and I know she’s going to spend the entire summer picking up the editors’ dry cleaning, so she offers to babysit Lester too in order to take pics of him. Meanwhile Dana is now babysitting Lester day and night, probably whether his parents need a sitter or not, just to run into Mac again. She actually asks the kid if he’s “going to be a brat” right in front of his parents. They are amazed at her excellent child-minding skills. Oh that Dana, capable at everything! Mac’s mom (who calls both her sons “Mac,” apparently) sends Mac over to borrow flour and eggs. Mac and Dana flirt inanely and he asks her out.
On date night, Mac has to pass inspection with housemother Alison before taking Dana out, so the two lovebirds start talking about what “nerds” parents become when a boy comes to pick up their daughter for a date. Yes, involved parents are so not with it! When they walk into a pizza parlour, they see Pamela, who turns white when she catches sight of them together, then comes over to tell Mac off and runs out in a huff. Dana is confused about what just happened. Any reader with an IQ over 2 is not.
Meanwhile Faith is obsessed with her dumb pictures and spreads them all over the room, including on Shelley’s mattress. Somehow Shelley is portrayed as being unsupportive for not being thrilled about this. The three roommates get into a really stupid fight about their individual obsessions (Faith’s photography, Shelley’s costume sewing, Dana’s writing in her diary about Mac. All equally important.) Shelley goes to Alison for advice and learns they all need to remember they’re a team, or something. I sneak in a nap.
While jogging, Dana runs into Mac and tells him she’s realized that she shouldn’t be mad at her roommates, and he met Shelley at the department store so he knows how sweet she is, right? Mac utters a non-committal, “Uh sure.” Dana doesn’t even notice.
By the day of their second date, Dana is already “in love.” When Mac shows up, he doesn’t seem to know what movie they had agreed to see. Again, Dana doesn’t notice. In the middle of the movie, Mac gets up and leaves, returning half an hour later with a lame excuse. When Dana gets home, Faith and Shelley tell her they saw Mac walking down the street when he was supposed to be with her; Dana decides he must have gone looking for a place where he could buy her fresh popcorn. I wish I lived in her alternate reality, where every sketchy action has a quick and flattering explanation.
The next morning Dana is surprised with an “Unbirthday Party” since her birthday is in August and can’t normally be celebrated at school. (Even though her 16th birthday was February 29 and she was surprised with a cake with four candles just a few books ago.) Pamela stops by to tell Dana that Mac called her the night before to ask her out, and that they’ll be “going out a great deal from now on.” Oh, and also to wish her many happy returns of the day. Dana knows Pamela is lying because Mac was with her the night before. Well, except for that pesky half hour he went missing from the theatre. Dunh-dunh-dun!
Faith babysits Lester while using him for her own professional advancement. “Be careful, won’t you?” she asks him. “I’m always careful, Faith,” he said in a tone that indicated surprise that she should even think to issue such a warning to one who, plainly, had survived for three full years. As the mother of a similarly-minded 3-year-old, this made me laugh out loud. She takes a boatload of Lester shots, but unfortunately it turns out that despite a lot of fancy photography-speak, Faith has not noticed that all her pictures have the next-door neighbours’ laundry in the background. She’ll need to babysit Lester again next weekend to retake all her pictures. Fortuitously, she decides to develop her spoiled pictures anyway and show them to her roomies. Shelley, after asking why the McAllisters don’t have an “automatic dryer machine”, and after a lot of comments about the manner in which Mac’s mom must be doing the wash (because why would an able-bodied young man, or his father, do it?) notices that there are two of each item of clothing on the clothesline. Finally putting two and two together, the girls realize that Mac must be twins. Twins who have been playing Dana and Pamela all along.
The girls start to formulate a plan of revenge, calling the twins Mach One and Mach Two because they change faster than the speed of sound. They couldn’t come up with nicknames a little more distinct from their actual names? And WHY are these twins so confused whenever one runs into the other’s latest conquest? If they’re actively switching places, don’t they exchange details beforehand?
Soon after, one of the Macs invites Dana to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She apparently has “very traditional” taste in music and doesn’t like much modern music at all. Does anyone else have trouble picturing a super-cool ’80s New York teenaged girl loving classical music and not rock? And finding a teenaged boy who feels the same? To test her theory, Dana starts telling whoppers, like that he stood up and took a bow during the movie they saw together, and that he sent her flowers, and he pretends he remembers doing those things, proving that there’s something fishy afoot. “You’ve brought me twice the happiness I’ve ever known,” Dana simpers. I know we’re supposed to be impressed by her clever double-meaning, but all I could think was, After two measly dates?
So Symphony Night arrives and Dana looks sensational, which is to say her usual self, in a silk sheath and a borrowed fox fur stole from Casey’s rich parents. Ah, the ’80s. Were they really all bad, sartorially speaking? (Don’t answer that.) One of the Macs picks her up, and, I quote, “Dana could tell that, whoever he was, he was thunderstruck by the way she looked.” Oh come on! I’m getting so tired of this Dana-worship. Mac/Mach One says he left the tickets at home, so they stop at his house and Dana waits in the car, and soon Mach Two returns. The twins have done their switcheroo for no discernible reason. At the symphony, among all the glamorous ladies, Mac Whoever says, “I’ve got to say, Dana, that you look every bit as much at home here as these other women, although I suspect most of them have to work far longer to be as beautiful as you are.” Dana: “Come on.” (My thoughts exactly!) Mac: “No, I mean it, and don’t dig for more compliments.” Whatta gem!
Dana lays the groundwork for their
diabolical mediocre plan by saying that Pamela’s going to the costume dance as a clown, and then hinting around that she has more gossip about Pamela, which in my experience would not interest a teenage boy at all, but these Machs are no ordinary dudes, I guess, so he hangs on her every word until she tells him (while also randomly mentioning that she “really loves” rock music — boy, that was quick) that Pamela’s still into him and claims to still be dating him. Dana tells him he should DEFINITELY avoid the dance, where Dana DEFINITELY won’t be because she’ll be sitting for someone whose names she doesn’t remember, and did she mention Pamela will be dressed up as a clown? Somehow this idiocy tempts him and we all know that, despite claims to the contrary, the Big Macs will be heading to the dance.
Later, Alison hears the girls giggling at night and checks in, worrying that they’re up to no good. “Well somebody’s going to have some trouble, but it’s not one of us,” they tell her. “Of course,” Alison agrees sagely. “The only thing that’s important is yourselves. I sure hope you won’t waste any time thinking of anyone else.” Love that Alison! Then Pamela shows up and tells Dana that she’s sorry things won’t work out between Dana and Mac, but surely Dana will agree that the better girl won. At least we can’t accuse the chick of being subtle. Dana calls Mac to tell him yet again that she’s not going to the dance, yet again that Pamela is, yet again that Pamela will be dressed as a clown, and that Pamela conveniently has laryngitis and can’t talk. Laying it on thick and the moron doesn’t even notice.
(Incidentally, the girls find out the twins are really named Harold and Malcolm. Was anyone still named Harold by the ’80s?)
The night of the long-awaited dance, the 3 roommates dress up as clowns and are totally indistinguishable from each other. After spending every other book beating us over the head with the information that Faith is black, that fact seems to be suddenly forgotten. Anyway, they then embark on their very complicated, very boring scheme for revenge. All 3 of them are dressed up as clowns, pretending to be Pamela, and trying not to be seen at the same time. Both Macs show up dressed as magicians and somehow think no one will notice there are two of them. Casey’s dressed as a French artist and “accidentally” paints a yellow stripe onto one of the Macs so the girls can tell them apart. The girls switch places with each other and trade Macs a bunch of times for no clear reason, and the Macs are none the wiser. Dana slips out, changes out of costume and lures Pamela to the cafeteria (since when is the lunchroom in Baker House and not a separate dining hall?) while Faith and Shelley, the remaining clowns, bring the Macs there as well. The Macs are confronted with the real Pamela and the real Dana, and realize that they were fooled by three clowns instead of one, and that their twin switching has been found out. Pamela is furious and the Macs are not particularly repentant. Exit Macs, stage left.
Faith later publishes a bunch of trick photos of the Macs in the school paper, so that all the girls on campus will know they’re twins and won’t fall for their nonsense again. (I feel like there’s a journalistic ethical violation going on here somehow.) Randy Crowell calls Dana up again once foaling season is over. And Faith finds out (by telegram) that she got the Washington paper internship.
– Faith buys a leather portfolio for her internship application. Leather for an application you’ll never see again? I’ve never been more grateful for e-mail.
– Dana calls herself “old girl” in her pep talks. She also wears Depends and donates to the AARP. It’s very New York.
– Shelley: “You can’t imagine how beautiful Iowa is at this time of year.” Dana: “You’re right about that!” Insulting middle America, yet again. I’m not from anywhere near there and I find myself wanting to punch Dana in her New York-perfect nose.
– Dana is apparently known as the best manicurist on campus. Being such a high-class city girl, wouldn’t she be used to getting manicures, not giving them? Guess she’s really slumming it over there at Canby.
And so, my friends, ends Room 407’s junior year. Next up: condensing all of senior year into one book! Someone at the publishing company must have been antsy to move on to a more interesting group of roommates. Join me next time for the Long Farewell to Dana, Faith and Shelley.