The Saturdays is a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s even on my Classics Club list! Sherry recommended I read it and The Book of Three this year in her annual reader advisory post, so this year I decided to do it early before I forgot. To give myself extra incentive, the girls and I volunteered to host our library’s mother/daughter bookclub and chose this novel as our book for March. I actually read Enright’s 1939 Newbery Medal-winning novel Thimble Summer when I was a child and then re-read it a few years ago. I was pleased that it stood the test of time for me and that my fond memories of it weren’t disappointed. Thus, I approached The Saturdays with some expectations–that it would be an episodic sort of story that treats the interior lives of children with great respect. This is certainly true–the Melendy children have some mild adventures on their Saturdays in this novel, but it’s more about their relationships and the way they experience their world. The Melendy children form the I.S.A.A.C.– the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club–to give themselves something special: the opportunity to go out independently for their own adventure, a treat unheard of for children with three siblings and a motherly housekeeper/nanny. Randy, whose idea it is to begin with, chooses a trip to the art museum because she loves art. Rush chooses a trip to the opera. Mona goes to the hair and nail salon all by herself and spends her money on a hair cut and a manicure, neither of which she asked permission for before leaving home. Little Oliver takes off by himself for the circus. What they actually get, in addition to the experiences they anticipate, are side adventures: Randy runs into a family friend who takes her to tea and tells her a story; Rush finds a dog; Mona meets interesting people at the hair salon and also hears a story; Oliver gets lost and is brought back home by a mounted policeman. They also have a few family adventures, including narrowly escaping asphyxiation by coal fumes and a small house fire. The story ends happily with them spending their summer at the seashore at the invitation of the friend who took Randy to tea on the First Saturday, and so the story comes full circle.
I just love stories that are rich in characterization and in which one might argue not a whole lot actually happens. Well, plenty happens in this story really, but everything that happens isn’t outside the realm of normal childhood adventures (normal for 1940s era New York City children, that is), but Enright writes in such a way that even the most humdrum of adventures is wonder-full, which is just as childhood should be. This story is in the same vein as the Eleanor Estes books (we love both the Moffat stories and the Pye stories), and my girls even noticed that like the Moffats, there are four Melendy children, two girls and two boys (and they also only have one parent living). This story is also very similar in spirit to the Penderwick stories and even some of the E. Nesbit stories just a little bit. What I love most about them is Enright’s wonderful ability to describe mundane events in the most beautiful way–she truly paints word pictures! I shared a couple of her descriptions here; here are a few more:
This from Mona’s Saturday at the salon:
Cascades of warm water and foaming suds of perfumed soap flowed over Mona’s scalp. Miss Pearl’s fingers were light and dexterous. This was something entirely different from Cuffy’s brand of shampoo. Cuffy scrubbed as if her hope of salvation depended upon it. When she was through, your eyes were red and smarting from all the soap that had got into them, and your whole skull was throbbing as though it had been beaten with a mallet. The Melendy children dreaded shampoo days as they dreaded few things, and Oliver had once been heard begging Cuffy to use the vacuum cleaner on his scalp instead. (Saturday Four)
This lovely description is from the final Saturday when the Melendys vacate their city home for the seashore:
At least it was Saturday. The express men, smelling of crates, and wearing caps on the backs of their heads and pencils behind their ears, had taken away the trunks. The taxi drivers and Father and Willy Sloper and Rush took the rest of the luggage down to the waiting taxis. It was interesting luggage. Besides a rare accumulation of elderly suitcases and hatboxes, there were several cardboard boxes, a duffel bag, a tricycle (Oliver had won on that but lost on the rocking horse), two umbrellas and a walking stick bound together, some steamer rugs, and the special suitcase with a window that contained the melancholy Isaac [Rush's dog]. (Saturday Eight)
Rush’s first glimpse of what he’ll have at his disposal in their summer home:
“Look at that!” said Rush, standing still; both his arms pulled down by suitcases. He was staring at a piano. It was the real McCoy all right: a Steinway parlor grand, black and shining as wet tar, with all its ivory keys gleaming in a sort of elegant smile. (Saturday Eight)
The Melendy children explore the seashore upon their arrival. (It reminded us of Pagoo.):
Randy walked along the rocks exploring. Her knees and elbows were lavender, her teeth chattering, and she was covered with gooseflesh; but as long as Cuffy didn’t know it Randy could ignore it. She came to a little pool full of sea water and kneeled down shivering, to examine it. She saw barnacles, and seaweed, and blueblack mussels, and some tiny turreted shells that wobbled decorously across the floor of the pool. When she reached down and picked one up to find out what made it wobble all she could see was the tip end of a minute pink claw. She dropped it back again, and lay down on her stomach to get a better view of this small busy world.
She saw a big crusty old villain of a crab waltzing sideways through the weeds, and some little fish that would hang motionless and nearly invisible in the water for minutes at a time and then dart quickly as if pulled by threads. The longer she looked the larger the world of the pool became, until it was a jungle ravine full of wild beasts and sudden dangers. (Saturday Eight)
And one more, just because I love it so much. This exchange is from their first supper at the lighthouse:
The older ones had supper on the terrace later with Mrs. Oliphant. They looked very clean with their wet hair and salt-scoured faces. A whole flock of freckles had already alighted on Randy’s nose, and Rush said he thought he must be sunburned because he could feel his back; usually he hardly knew it was there. (Saturday Eight)
We wracked our brains to come up with some sort of activity–usually it’s some sort of craft–to do at our bookclub meeting. This book didn’t seem to lend itself to anything crafty, so we settled on a tea party, complete with petit fours, in honor of Randy’s tea party with Mrs. Oliphant. It was a lovely evening, and all of the mothers and daughters in attendance enjoyed the story immensely. We all give it a Highly Recommended, we here at the House of Hope are looking forward to picking up the next novel in the Melendy Quartet. (Henry Holt, 1941)