PHOEBE TAKES CHARGE by Ruth M. Goldsmith


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Far-fetched foolishness set in 1926, when long-widowed Judge Mayhew leaves his small Connecticut village on a business trip and, for the first time, leaves his daughter Phoebe in charge of the house. Phoebe, home from her first year at college, has her own ideas about how things should be done, and eleven-year-old Amy, the narrator, is immediately enlisted to strip the hall for redecoration. Soon father's long-gone wandering brother Mark shows up with six friends from the Indian reservation. Phoebe, believing Mark rich, insists to Amy that his friends are Indians from ""Inja,"" not the ordinary native kind, and once more enlists her sister to prepare Phoebe's dainty notion of a proper tea and dinner for the guests. There are running jokes about Phoebe's repeatedly slipping on the hall runner, and about Uncle Mark being the Mayhew with neither sense nor cents. Phoebe is knocked out on one of her slips, and when she comes to she leads Uncle Mark to believe that she can smell money. He then borrows $200.000 from the greedy local moneylender to take her to Boston to make a fortune with her talent. Mark, a rich-in-natural-wonder sort who aims to ""do good,"" plans to give their earnings to the poor; but Phoebe, who wants to ""do well,"" has her own agenda. But the two return empty-handed; and to save Phoebe from scandal as the Mayhew with neither sense nor cents nor scents (she really can't smell money), her boyfriend Morgan--who is also the moneylender's son--signs a contract allowing his father one-quarter of his time, income, and holdings for life. How Uncle Mark, the Indians, Amy, the family housekeeper, Phoebe's friend Helga, and Mark's old friend the local garageman save Morgan from his father-and from the evil spirits Indian Johnny Seeker says live under the father's office--is even more nonsensical, unlikely, and difficult to credit even as wacko farce. Phoebe's pretensions will evoke some laughs and the corny puns seem authentic as local mots that might strike a 1926 eleven-year-old's sense of humor, but instead of snowballing to hilarity the story becomes more and more forced, frantic, and ludicrous.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum (Margaret K. McElderry)