Seventeen (Booth Tarkington, 1915)

William Sylvanus Baxter has attained the great age of seventeen and now considers himself quite an adult. He takes it as a major affront when his family, friends, or strangers don’t — never mind how passing or imaginary the slight against his adulthood may be. He is very, very self-conscious and like as not to assume everything anyone says or does is about him.

Baxter, as he would like to be called now that he’s put Silly Bill behind him, has found true and everlasting love. Young Miss Lola Pratt is visiting the Prachers and she is simply the noblest creature on the earth. She carries a tiny perfumed and often barely conscious dog with her called Flopit that she continually speaks in baby talk to. Indeed, she continually speaks in baby talk in general to everybody. Baxter builds castles in the sky for when they marry, which will be right away, of course — why, did you hear of the boy in Iowa who started shaving at 13 and in three years had a full beard and he married and they said it was the best thing that could have happened.

Trouble is, every other boy around Baxter’s age has also fallen head over heals for Miss Pratt. Baxter is only barely cognizant of them, given how true and everlasting his love is compared to their boyish infatuations. Mr. Pracher knows. Mr. Pracher knows and is being driven slowly insane by Miss Pratt’s baby prattle and the gaggle of boys that fill his house from early morning to late at night.

The book is really a series on incidents too numerous to recite in which Baxter continually defeats himself through his own self-consciousness. Cringe humor, which I don’t normally go in for, but I had fun with this one. Worried that the ending was going to turn out trite, but no, it veered hard into creepy territory instead. Hurray?

Inscription: “To George, from his friends in 214” on the front flyleaf. Don’t know what that is. The hand looks male and decidedly adult.

The Guest of Quesnay (Booth Tarkington, 1907)

A drunkard and a drug addict drives away his long-suffering wife with his drinking and drugs. After the divorce, he takes up with a Spanish dancer, but a car accident ends her dancing career and nearly ends him altogether. Two years later, a landscape painter a bit aged-out of being fashionable takes his usual room at a French inn to work through the summer. It’s an out of the way place, but two mysterious guests show up: a famous psychologist and an unknown man. Quesnay, the local chateau, has been taken by some old friends of the painter with the ex-wife hired on as a sort of caretaker. It turns out the unknown man was the dissipated ex-husband, who is also turns out wasn’t too ex- to begin with — his wife having never completed the divorce suit. He was left amnesic after the wreck and the psychologist had the grand plan of rebuilding this blank slate into good, upstanding man and reuniting him with his wife.

I don’t know why, but I can’t ever suspend my disbelief for amnesia stories and this was no real exception. I like Tarkington, though, and enjoyed the rest of it.

Inscriptions: “Westford, Mass” on the front endpaper.