As you know, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, I am a big L.M. Montgomery fan. Maud is my girl; she gave me Anne Shirley for which I will always be grateful. As I grew up, I also found all her short stories and the few standalone novels she wrote. Not only did she give me Anne Shirley (who, let’s face it, is the original manic pixie girl to some extent) but she gave me Jane Stuart who is my spirit animal if there ever was one. Jane is a practical little soul who gets excited about organizing her house, keeping to her schedule and cooking for her dad. She also at one point ends up leading an escaped circus lion around. Jane is unflappable and I still aspire to be like her.
There are few of Maud’s books I haven’t gotten to (although notably, I haven’t read the Emily books. I find people often read either the Anne books or the Emily books…why is this?) so when I received The Tangled Web at Christmas, one of her few adult audience books, I was excited! But things happened and it’s only now I got around to reading it when my to read pile expanded beyond one drawer of my night stand.
The Tangled Web shows Maud at her best and worst as a storyteller. At her best, no one writes crazy, kooky and yet lovable families like Montgomery. The Darks and Penhallows of The Tangled Web are a cantankerous, loyal, slightly certifiable bunch who dance to the tune of Aunt Becky, the family matriarch and holder of Rebecca Dark’s jug, an ugly family heirloom that everyone wants but cannot really say why other than they don’t want their other relatives to have it. Aunt Becky holds a get together, proceeds to remind everyone about years’ worth of family scandals while bequeathing her many belongings to the family member that least wants it and then, at the end, announces that only a year after she has died will it be announced who gets the jug. So starts a year of chaos as the family fights, engagements are broken, old romances rekindled and dreams lost and found before the final twist of the book.
In many ways, The Tangled Web is simply a group of short stories all linked together by a common family and the jug. Read enough of Maud’s short story collections and you’ll find she is not above re-using storylines, names and places from her short stories in her novels and vice versa so I recognized a lot of the characters and where the stories were going pretty early on. The difference comes in the characters themselves. Margaret Penhallow’s story, for example, is a bunch of common Montgomery tropes. A women who wants her own home and someone to love but is taken advantage of by her relatives because of her unmarried state and never expected to amount to much. It is Margaret, a spinster who writes poetry and daydreams, that makes her storyline lovely and different from the other Montgomery stories that follow that base plot line. I knew Margaret would get her happy ending (Montgomery never lets a character like this down) but it was still fun to get to watch how she got there.
At her worst though, Maud is a product of her time and her background, which was a predominantly white, rather narrow, by the book outlook. Though I would never call her close-minded per say, she can write characters that make you wish she has just stopped a little sooner. Her characters of Big and Little Sam in The Tangled Web are unnecessary; their storyline rarely cross with the rest of the stories. You could easily remove them and not harm the rest of the narrative. And yet, these are the characters Montgomery chooses to end The Tangled Web with and on an especially horrible final note. I literally shuttered on the last sentence because it was unnecessary and pointless and left me with a sour taste in my mouth. No, her language choice was not uncommon at the time; in fact, it was accepted but you wish your heroines to be above the prejudices of their time and it’s never pleasant to see them fall short of your expectations.
That said, I still very much enjoyed The Tangled Web and Maud remains a favorite whom I always recommend no matter someone’s age. Now excuse me while I go daydream about getting a surprise windfall and being able to purchase a dream home and adopt a neglected relative (totally happens in this book).