Stephanie Bradt: A LITTLE DEMONSTRATION OF AFFECTION (1975) by Elizabeth Winthrop is a peculiar little story that I picked up for some change at the local Salvation Army. What struck me about it, besides the fact that it was cheap (and worn), was that the cover art was, well, interesting. It shows a young teenage boy and girl outside: the girl on a tree swing and looking all emo, the boy leaning against said tree and looking all emo, and a dog lying at the boy’s feet looking…well, he looks like a dog.
Anyway, this gave me the urge to skim the synopsis. It said, “For the first time, Charley and Jenny were more than just brother and sister.” I was like haha, incest. Also, reminiscent of the books I was forced to read in school, in which someone always dies, I quipped, “I’ll bet the dog dies.” Little did I know that both of these facetious predictions would turn out to be true.
In the novel, thirteen-year-old Jenny and fourteen-year-old Charley are sister and brother. They have another brother, sixteen-year-old John, who is a typical delinquent, his claim to fame being smoking pot in the basement. He is a bad boy. He goes with his bad-influence friend and his friend’s family to the Adirondacks for summer vacation.
Before John leaves, he gets the bright idea of digging a hole in the yard for fun. When John leaves, Jenny and Charley decide to take over the project themselves. As they dig the hole, they build charact—no wait, never mind; that is HOLES. Back to A LITTLE DEMONSTRATION OF AFFECTION. In this particular book, as Jenny and Charley dig the hole, they talk to each other and bond. The family dog, who also happens to be Charley’s BFF, goes to the farmer-neighbor’s house and terrorizes the chickens and so the farmer up and shoots the dog. And the kids’ father is like, “oh well.” Charley is devastated and eventually opens up to Jenny. He even shows him writings from his notebook that he has never shown anyone. In this moment of crisis, Jenny and Charley share a hug which is a little too long. They both like it a little too much. At this point, I say, “WHAT THE HELL KIND OF STORY IS THIS?”
Back to the hole. Jenny and Charley get closer, talking to each other about how they wish their mother and father hugged and kissed in front of them more. They feel unloved because of it or something like that. Huh? There’s more. Jenny’s friend, Lucy, starts to spend more time with Charley and they kind of like each other. And Jenny is jealous. Especially when Lucy wants to help with the hole. Then John comes home and wants to help with the hole. Jenny and Charley finally finish the hole and decide to camp in the little underground fort it leads into. There, they talk about sex and Jenny wants to snuggle with Charley, but Charley (for some reason) rejects her advances. Then, Jenny is depressed and doesn’t talk to anyone and no one knows what is wrong with her. She finally opens up to her dad and says how she has feelings for her brother because they got so close over the summer and Charley even showed her his notebook. The dad says, “He showed you his notebook!?” Okay, Dad, never mind your kids were just revealed to be little sickos. Instead, he is jealous Jenny got to see the kid’s notebook. Then he tells Jenny not to worry, that it is perfectly natural for someone her age to have feelings for her brother. Jenny then tells the dad that she and Charley would feel better if the dad and mom would hug and kiss in front of them more. The dad is like, No. The end.
Seriously. What was the point of the hole? And the dog? And the incest? What is the point of this story? If you are confused, join the club.
Jordan Bradt: Stephanie gave me a delightful book: A LITTLE DEMONSTRATION OF AFFECTION by Elizabeth Winthrop. This young adult novel from 1975 has everything a wholesome book should have. There are family issues, ways to deal with grief, sibling camaraderie, pet love, physical endurance, religion, and friendship; not to mention an awesome depicting a moody boy leaning against a tree, a depressed girl on a swing, and a dog resting at her feet. The book is also short, so it only took me two hours to read it.
I hope you know that first sentence was filled with sarcasm. Let’s start with family issues. The parents don’t seem to care about the kids, so the kids are upset. Really upset. At the end, the girl, Jenny, tells her dad she wishes he and her mom showed more affection. So clearly, she wants them to have sex near her. She and her brother actually discuss that during the book. WTF
Now let’s look at ways the book shows the characters dealing with grief. The grief involves the brother, Charley, and his dog, Moses. The family goes on vacation. Moses runs outdoors. The neighbor shoots him. The family does nothing, and it takes them two days before they go home. I would have left that day. Then, by the end of the book, the family acts as if they don’t care anymore. WTF
Sibling camaraderie equals incestuous thoughts. Jenny loves Charley. She wants him. He rather wants her too, but then he wants her friend Lucy instead. Jenny becomes angry when she thinks of Charley and Lucy making love. Jenny even comes onto her brother. Then, she tells her father and he says that’s normal. WTF
Pet love goes back to Moses. Charley loves him, and he loves his fish, but then he stops caring about the fish. Altogether, it all made me think: WTF
Physical endurance is a major theme throughout the book, because the siblings and Lucy dig a hole. It’s going to be their clubhouse. Oooh. To me, I thought of a demented version of the book/movie HOLES. Somehow, digging the hole cures Charley’s asthma. Huh, who knew? If you have asthma, go dig a hole. Clearly, that will help. Personally, I would think the moist dirt would make his asthma worsen. WTF
The religion mentioned in the book is Catholicism. Charley and Jenny question their beliefs. The mom is said to be very religious. Jenny goes to a Catholic school and wants to be a nun, but then Lucy supposedly talks her out of it. Yup, this is definitely wholesome reading material. The religious aspect almost seemed added into the story once the author finished it, and thought it needed another dimension. WTF
Friendship in the story involves Lucy. She begins as being friends with Jenny, but then Jenny becomes jealous of Lucy’s relationship with Charley, which is the other friendship. If you want to learn about friendship, though, do not read this book. This book will make you wince and ask, “What the f***?”