Monday, November 30, 2015

Anne Mateer's "At Every Turn" - an Edwardian-era trip to the races

Cover ArtCaught up in a whirlwind of religious enthusiasm, Alyce Benson impetuously pledges three thousand dollars to mission work in Africa. However, her wealthy father has no intention of forking over the cash to anything related to the church, and suddenly Alyce has to earn that money on her own. With no real skills but her ability to drive an automobile, and no talent at saving cash, Alyce looks to be in trouble . . . until she hits on the idea of driving her father's car in the races. With the aid of Webster, her father's mechanic, she might just have a chance to pull it off--if she hasn't placed her trust in the wrong people.

I liked the ending. Very much. But getting there was a trial for me--not because it was boring, or that I disliked the heroine, or that it made me mad, but mainly because I have an acute sense of embarrassment for people, both fictional and real, and Alyce triggered it. She constantly teeters on the rim of the bowl of embarrassment, making promises she can't necessarily keep, putting her trust in sketchy people, resorting to deception to hide her driving. But most of all, she's one of those people that causes a stir wherever she goes, simply by being her unconventional, enthusiastic self, and that leaves plenty of room for embarrassing (albeit sometimes humorous) situations.

There were definitely some good lessons to be learned about pride and honesty. I liked that Alyce's heart is in the right place, even if she doesn't always make the wisest decisions. And while she is a bit too trusting, I think it is better to trust too much than to be suspicious of everyone.

If you have any interest in car racing or the early automobile industry, this should be a fun read. I wondered for a long while how driving could be so tiring--what's 150 miles? An easy 3-hour trip or less. But it did occur to me eventually that those early cars likely did not have power steering, [relatively] comfy seats, the ease of automatic shifting, and all the smooth-working inner systems that have by now been perfected by the auto industry. In fact, I bet long stints in the car were utterly miserable. It's probably incredible that Alyce likes it and can do it!

Think Downton Abbey--namely Lady Sybil, with all her passion and heart for good causes--falling in love at high speed not just with the chauffeur, but with the chauffeuring itself.
O’Dell Shields photo. Noel Allard collection; http://www.gotomn.com/racing/minn500.htm



Above: Dario Resta and his mechanic at the 1916 Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race in which Alyce competes.

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