15 March 2009

The Westing Game

Having taken a two-month break in my Newbery reading, I returned to the quest by inviting myself along on the mystery that is Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game. I had the store order in the Puffin Modern Classics edition because it's much prettier than the chess-piece designed mass market we carry in the store. I first read TWG in fifth-grade and I can honestly say that there is nothing in Raskin's narrative to explicitly place the novel in 1978 (the year it was published, incidentally, also my year of birth) and I'm pretty sure I initially placed the novel's setting as around 1990; it makes a very modern novel seem timeless because there are no specific pop culture references except to a few car models, the Packers (but only because the novel is set in Wisconsin), and the market Turtle plays only goes up or down 30 points or so a week rather than hundreds of points in a day.

On a re-read, this is still a very spell-binding book. I read it all this afternoon (only pausing to trade out the laundry) and finished in about two hours total; why I never asked for a copy of my own is beyond me because I remembered so many scenes from the book in exact detail (Angela's injuries after the bombing particularly). I must have checked this out from the library hundreds of times. The great power of the novel is that the reader has access to everyone's clues in the game, making us know more than everyone else, and Raskin expects the reader to figure out the answer before any of the characters. Which you never do - it takes Turtle to put everything together at the end of the book because she is the one who realizes what it missing. Also, being a young adult book, the narrator treats the reader like an adult, which is always nice when you're trying to act more like a grown-up; re-reading TWG as an adult I think that the level of writing and structure is quite similar to many literary novels in a simple way.

I still love Turtle; she is my favorite character (partly because she and I are so much alike, right down to the competition with the boys) followed closely by Chris and then Angela (but only about half-way through when she stops being a pansy and we find out her secret). I still hate Grace Wexler and wish she hadn't been so successful; at least she started working instead of decorating and "putting on airs" like royalty. I do confess that I remembered Turtle as considerably older than myself, nearly finished with high school and the same age as Doug and Theo, rather than only a year or two older than myself (perhaps this is because I was the youngest in my school class and always felt a year off birthday-wise from everyone).

Vocabulary Lesson:
coroner (that would depend on how many crime shows are watched)
pyramidal tract
sporadic myositis
dastardly (which is loosely defined nearly 100 pages later)

One of my favorite bits occurs near the front of the novel:
"Who were these people, these specially selected tenants? They were mothers and fathers and children. A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person." - page 5.

I am debating on whether to re-read A Wrinkle in Time since I last read it in 2007 in honor of L'Engle's passing; but in any case my next choice is Caddie Woodlawn.

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