The title: A Tangled WebThe author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: Seal, 1988 (originally 1931)
Got it from: PEI, early 1990's
I've been slowly re-reading a lot of Montgomery's works for the first time since childhood, and my recent foray was with one of her few adult-oriented novels, A Tangled Web. This story focuses on a tight-knit community ruled by two proud families, the Darks and Penhallows, who have fought and married each other for years. Yes, they're incestuous, but it was pretty common back then. As the story opens, family matriarch and queen bitch Aunt Becky is dying and is about to announce who is going to receive her legendary heirloom jug. Every member of the family is dying to have it, but Becky, who can't resist being awful even as she's dying, makes them wait a year and dance to her tune before they can find out who gets it.
In typical Montgomery fashion the book is very character driven. Each family member has his or her own back story that has to get resolved before the end of the year. It's not exactly a secret who the "good" and "bad" characters are. Montgomery is pretty clearly on the side of the romantic, old-fashioned Victorian folk, she has no patience for the moderns. Consider one of the heroines, Gay (her name is Gay, people!), a throwback Gibson Girl and professional romantic whose fiancee is stolen by her cousin Nan, a boyish flapper who oozes nastiness from her pores. There's also the tragic story of Hugh and Joscelyn, separated on their wedding night ten years ago. Joscelyn's growth as a character comes from her realization of her true love for her traditional husband and his old-fashioned farm. But even if she's hard on the non-homebodies, some of them still get their happy endings. Peter Penhallow, the family's globe-trotting explorer, is a moron, but manages to win his true love in the end (although it should be noted that his and Donna's story is the most underdeveloped and fizzles out at the end).
There's little touches of humour sprinkled throughout the book, especially in the scenes involving Big Sam, a wee fussy man, and the gigantic Little Sam, roommates who fall out over a naked goddess statue. Overall though, this book feels more tragic than what I'm used to from Montgomery. It was written in during the early stages of the Depression when the author's own life wasn't going so well, and it shows. It isn't one of my favourites of hers, but I liked it pretty well. That is, until the very last paragraph, when she trots out something so racist I did a double-take. You were so close, Maud! You almost made it. It's too bad the ending had to leave such a bad taste in my mouth, but then again it's not the first time she's done this to me.