This weekend I finished listening to The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright (1909-1968), one of my all time favorite authors. The Saturdays is the first of four books about the Melendy children: Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver. Originally published in 1941, The Saturdays tells of several months in the life of the Melendys, as they live in their New York brownstone. The children's mother is dead, but they accept this with the equanimity of most children in books, and live securely with Father, their longtime housekeeper Cuffy, and handy-man Willy Sloper.
One rainy day, the four children conceive the idea of pooling their weekly allowances, and taking turns going off alone on adventures. They call it the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). Randy visits an art exhibit, and has tea with a family friend. Rush goes to the opera, and discovers the stray Isaac. Mona visits a beauty parlor, and hears the story of a young runaway. Even six-year-old Oliver manages an adventure on his own (though for the modern reader, the mental image of a six-year-old wandering around New York City alone is pretty harrowing). Other more dramatic adventures follow.
This story is set during the early years of World War II, before the U.S. has entered the war, but with the war as a dark cloud on the horizon. The war doesn't affect the main story, but references to it pop up at regular intervals, mostly from Cuffy or Father. My impression is that the war was weighing so heavily on Elizabeth Enright's mind as she wrote the book, that she had to mention it. Today, these references serve to anchor the book to a particular point in time.
For the most part, the story holds up remarkably well for being 65 years old. There is a scene in which 13-year-old Mona comes to the dinner table wearing bright red nail polish, and completely scandalizes her family. This will probably seem quaint to modern-day children, as will the Melendy children's 50 cent allowance, and the fact that the girls wear dresses and hats when dressing up to go out.
Still, much of the book is completely timeless. Elizabeth Enright clearly understands what makes kids tick. She is a genius when it comes to portraying the details of children's lives, and how they react to different situations. In the foreword to the audio book, she says that she writes about adventures that she would have liked to have as a child. She's quite successful at this.
I highly recommend all four of Melendy books: The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two. I can't wait to go back now and re-read the others, as well as my favorite Elizabeth Enright book, Gone-Away Lake.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.