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Must Read Well Reviewed
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Thursday, May 26, 2022

Must Read Well Reviewed

Author:Ellen Pall

Publisher: Bancroft Press


In the kickoff scene of Ellen Pall's Must Read Well, we are introduced to Elizabeth Miller. For the past several years she has been grappling to complete her Ph.D dissertation at Columbia University.

Elizabeth has recently broken off with her boyfriend and temporarily lives in her friend Petra's home.

We encounter her at the kitchen table going through Craig's list of rental offerings when one, in particular, grabs her eye.

A private room with a bath and a view in a pre-war doorman Greenwich Village building is immediately available. The advertiser mentions the terms would be suitable for a quiet female amenable to reading one hour a day to a purblind landlady. If interested, they should respond with a succinct work/educational resumé. The last few words of the ad encompass the words: "Must read well."

Amazed, Elizabeth instantly realizes who planted the ad. The advertiser must be Anne Taussig Weil, who is now quite on in age. She is one of the three authors Elizabeth had chosen to concentrate on in her dissertation entitled: "Inadvertent Feminists: Three Mid-century Popular Female Novelists Who Advanced the Cause of Women." The theme of her thesis is to analyze the lives and sociopolitical influence of three successful authors of so-called women's fiction in the late 1950s and early '60s."

Elizabeth informs us that she was anxious to know how a woman in the the time of Anne behaved sexually? How much, and what they thought of their own sexuality? How they acted on their desires? How freely they articulated their thoughts and actions?

Two of the authors had kindly co-operated with Elizabeth, furnishing her with valuable material. Anne, the most important author of the three, declined to speak to her. Elizabeth knew that Anne, author of the 1965 Blockbuster, The Vengeance of Catherine Clark, had to be key to her thesis. She realizes that if she could persuade Anne to rent the room to her, she would be on the road to gaining access to precious knowledge about Elizabeth's life and work. She also would find out what provoked Anne to author Vengeance? First, however, Elizabeth had to feign her identity to Anne and not disclose that she was the Ph.D candidate. She had previously hounded her for an interview.

Elizabeth meets Anne and agrees to rent the room to her, provided she is available any moment of the day to read for no less than an hour during the term of their lease. There are, however, essential provisions in the agreement, apart from the one hundred and sixty dollars monthly rental. Elizabeth would be obliged to read for meaning, notice the shape of a sentence, and underscore the appropriate words. Above all, whatever she read must be retained in unqualified confidence, and she would be expected to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The readings would be from excerpts from some of Anne's journals, entries she recorded a long time ago. She indicates to Elizabeth, she maintained a diary for practically all of her life.

Failure to comply with the requirements of their arrangement could lead to litigation and potential significant financial damages. Elizabeth does, however, have some solace. She speculates the terms relate merely to what she picks up from the information exclusively contained in the readings. There is no indication of the discussions she might have with Anne, nor the other journals that would remain unread. How will she lay her hands on these journals that are sitting not very far off from her?

As one excellently rendered scene follows another, Elizabeth discovers some titillating information with lascivious images involving Anne-something that shocks her. Anne had been carrying on an extra-marital affair with her neighbor, Greg, a brilliant pianist. Greg is married to a woman who sadly had to give up her career as a well-established violinist due to developing focal dystonia in her left hand. After reflecting on Anne's behavior, Elizabeth believed Anne seemed to be an unusually liberated woman. Did Anne see herself in the same light? Elizabeth needed to know this, and to what extent Vengeance had been a political statement for her, if it had been at all.

During their daily reading, Anne is solely interested in those parts of the diary that portray her many passionate secret trysts with her lover. After that, nothing else seems of importance to her. She confesses to Elizabeth that it was the death of Greg that made her want to revisit her journals.

Pall's profoundly moving narrative is a penetrating and provocative exploration of the lingering impact of secrecy and guilt involving forbidden love as the mind and body approach one's last days. The writing is explicit and relentless, moving along like flowing water, as Anne shares with a stranger her most intimate moments with Greg. Pall refuses to gloss over Anne's anxiety of understanding and quiet peace of coming to terms with her past. She must further face being a forgotten writer when she passes on. Themes of deception and duplicity are also woven into the plot, where two vivid and compelling characters play their respective parts in "a cat-and-mouse game" while learning from each other. As Elizabeth states: "Two vixens intent on getting their needs met-Anne as she had been in 1963-and me."

Just where it ends is unpredictable, although I must confess that I thought I had it all figured out midway through my reading. How wrong could I have been! As a side note, if the novel is ever turned into a movie, I would like to see Judy Dench play the role of Anne. She would be perfect for the part.

Follow Here To Read Norm's Interview With Ellen Pall

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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