Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: A Bargain for Frances

Earlier this week at Pickle's preschool, they had a bin of free books that we could take home.  I saw a book I had read when I was a child and vaguely remembered liking it in the fogs of my memory.  I'll preface this post by saying - I'm going to just spoiler the crap out of this book, so you probably want to stop now if you want to be surprised if you ever read this book to your child.  I'm not going to judge you for what is sort of an odd desire, but just reiterate that you are going to learn the ending if you keep reading.

The book I found and picked up was A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban (LINK):

It is the story of a young female rodent - a badger, I think, and her adventure with a friend.  I'll just jump right in on how the tale goes.

The scene opens with Frances talking to her mom.  The conversation goes approximately like this:

Frances:  "Hey, Mom, I'm going to Thelma's house.  See you later!"
Mom:  "Yeah, be careful."
Frances:  "Why on earth would you possibly tell me to be careful going to a girlfriend's house?"
Mom:  "Because Thelma's a little hag.  Remember the time you went over there to play boomerang, and she spent the whole time bouncing it off your skull?  Or the time you wanted to go ice skating, but the ice on the pond was really fresh, and she insisted you go try it first?  Remember how you came home with hypothermia?"
Frances:  "Oh, right, I remember now!  Surely nothing can go wrong this time, I'm just going over to play teaset.  See ya!"

But clearly Frances is wrong, and something CAN go wrong, or else there would be no premise to the book.

So, Frances goes over to play tea party with Thelma.  (Coincidentally - I don't think these names were really all that popular even in 1970, when this book was originally published.  Maybe with badgers, though, I don't know.  I haven't googled that.)  They get there, and start playing with Thelma's plastic tea set with red flowers, which is apparently the worst thing in the world.  Thelma asks Frances why she doesn't have one.  Frances, admittedly, gets a bit uppity and says that she's saving her money for a real china one with blue flowers, because they're so much better; she'd had one previously and broken it.  Here's a screen shot of Thelma's apparent plastic crap-fest:

So, what happens next shows that Thelma is the worst badger ever.  She starts working psychologically on Frances.  That conversation goes sort of like this, and it works best if you hear Thelma's voice in your head with, like, a vampire accent or something:

Thelma:  Well, you should buy my teaset.
Frances:  But I don't want this giant turd of a teaset.  I just said that.  I've saved up $2.11 for this new one.
Thelma:  This one is plastic and won't ever break unless you step on it [side note - this is a pretty suspicious thing to say].  And it's got these little red flowers on it.
Frances:  Yeah, I got that, but I want a blue china one with blue flowers and a dude on a boat on the side.  I have literally told you that six times.
Thelma:  Whatever.  I don't want to sell you mine anymore, anyway.
Frances:  Whaaaaat?  Why?  Well, I guess that's okay, since I still want the china one.
Thelma:  I don't think you can even buy the china one anymore.  I had a friend who saved up $2.12, and she went to the store, and her mom couldn't find them anywhere.  She even had a guy in the mafia look for them, and NO LUCK.  So, anyway, good luck, sucker.
Frances:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  This sounds like a totally valid scenario.  Let me run home and get my money and give it to you for this teaset I don't like, just so that I don't end up with no teaset.

See the ninja mind tricks there??  Anyway, so Frances does that, and she takes home the red plastic teaset.  Her sister, I forget her name but she carries around a wooden duck on a string or something, asks her, "Why do you have that teaset?  It's ugly as heck.  I like the blue flower china one."  Frances explains you can't buy those anymore, and her sister says something to the effect of, "That's absolutely fallacious information.  My little friend bought one for $2.05 at the candy store that we visit on the daily just last week, they had dozens."  And then, in your brain, you can see poor little Frances' brain just explode into a million pieces when she realizes her mistake.

She walks to the candy store to confirm the duck sister's story, and she sees this in the window:

That would be the evil Thelma purchasing the exact tea set Frances wanted with Frances' own money.  But Thelma had said "no backsies" all super-foreshadowy like earlier, so there wasn't anything that Frances could do to say backsies.

So, does Frances take this lying down?  No.  She puts a penny in the sugar bowl or something of the crappy teaset, and calls Thelma.  And then she proceeds to exact psychological warfare on Thelma.  She calls her and it goes sort of like this:

Thelma:  Hi, Frances.  Remember, no backsies.  [Side note - and you just know from someone who picks up the phone and starts a conversation like this that they are the devil.]
Frances:  Yeah, whatever.  Anyway, since there's no backsies, I'm gonna go ahead and keep what I found inside the sugar dish.  See ya!

She hangs up, and sits smugly beside the phone waiting for Thelma to call back.  Which she does.  And it goes like this:

Thelma:  Hi, this is Thelma.
Frances:  Yeah, I knew you were going to call back.  NO BACKSIES, HAG.
Thelma:  Right, but I think I might have left my birthday present from Uncle Jerry in the sugar bowl.  Was it a diamond bracelet?
Frances:  Nope.  Not telling, no backsies.
Thelma:  Um, or it might have been money.  It might have been $2.  Or, wait, wait, $5!  That's it, it was $5!
Frances:  I don't have to tell you how much money I found in there, no backsies.  If you want it, I want my money back.
Thelma:  Well, I spent your money in the most diabolical way ever.  How about I bring you the new tea set I bought, and the 5 cents extra I made off of you, and then I can get mine back?
Frances:  Whatever.  I guess.

So Thelma gets there, and they do the switch back.  And Thelma finds out it was only a penny in there.  And then with the coldness of a serial killer, all she says is, "That wasn't very nice."  And Frances is like, "Nope, it wasn't.  Nor was what you did."  Thelma says she's going to have to be careful around Frances from now on (in a quaint show of irony), Frances says something like, "Do you want to be careful, or be friends?"  Thelma says, "Friends," so they take that extra nickle and go and buy candy at the candy store.  

I feel like the ending of this book is something of a letdown.  First, it's saying that if you just straight-up lie and stoop to someone else's level to exact revenge, you'll get what you want.  And that may actually be how things work in the business world, but this is a book for 3 to 5 year olds.  I'm not sure that's the exact message we want to be sending.  Also, Frances just goes back to trusting Thelma, who has screwed her over three times, just because Thelma says she wants to be friends?  If I were Frances' mom, I'd be pissed.  I wouldn't want that little badger anywhere near my daughter, I'd go all Mama Bear on her.  I find this all very unfulfilling.  I think maybe it would have been cooler if Frances, after saying, "Nope, what I did wasn't cool, neither was what you did," she did something like light a candy cigarette, glare coolly at Thelma, and walk out of her life forever.  That would be much more appropriate.  But whatever.

No comments:

Post a Comment