A Romp through the time, the novel "Mary's Neck"
Many literate Americans in the 21st century are not familiar with novelist Booth Tarkington. Mr. Tarkington is an example of many artists forgotten by history as their work was immensely popular during their life time but did not stand the test of time because the works clearly reflect only the tastes of the era in which they lived. During his lifetime, Mr. Tarkington was a revered as Mark Twain and touted as one of America's greatest authors. But as time has moved onward, his dry humor laden novels exploring life as a comfortable or well to do American in the second and third era of the 20th century do not intrigue modern readers. The novel proffer few commentaries on societal issues of the day have been left on the shelf only be explored by the true bookworm.
The novel "Mary's Neck is not one of Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction novels but does deserve a place on our bookshelves as it reflects the taste of American's love of fiction in a by gone era. The novel spent seven glorious weeks at the top of the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 1932. The "Mary's Neck" is a true glimpse of a time and taste of a bygone era.
Our protagonist. of the novel, Mr. Massey from Logansville, Illinois describes his adventures of placating the whims of his wife and two daughters as they seek "their proper place in society" during the summer season on the East Coast. The women of the family decide that the affluent resort town of Mary's Neck is the perfect place for them. The novel explores their attempts to integrate within social hierarchy of seasonal summer folk in a town filled with townspeople who lived in the area year round for generations.
The saga of the story begins when Mr. Massey's family convinces him to rent a home in the resort village of Mary's Neck and to arrive early. The premise of arriving early is based upon the desire of the women in the family could begin to get the social lay of the land.
The first task the women felt needed to be accomplished was to purchase antiques to fill the rental home with so that they blended into resort society without looking like new comers. They convince Mr. Massey to purchase a vast of variety of "antiques" they had read about in books and magazines. An example of the shopping escapades is found in Chapter II " Anyhow, it was a great find and they'd got it at a tremendous bargain; but that seemed to be true of everything they bought. They were always talking of the "finds" they made; and they seemed to consider themselves pretty remarkable discoverers. It didn't matter if something they bought was sitting right out in the show-window of an antique store, they always said they "found" it, and pretty often they were sure the antique dealer hadn't understood the value of the things they bought, or maybe had got confused and put the wrong price-mark on something that was worth at least three times what they'd paid for it."
Before the season even starts, we find Mr. Massey has been convinced by his loving family that he must purchase the house they are renting for the season and expand it prior to other families arriving. This course of action will allow his daughters surer footing to gain entrance into the summer society life of Mary's Neck. The crisis involving the home takes a large portion of Chapter IV and Chapter V starts with this "I don't like to go into the details of the next few days. I'll only state roughly that I had to be the one that insisted on buying the house, and that by the end of a week we owned it and carpenters were tearing up the living-room before extending it thirty-five feet out into the yard."
Once the families begin arriving, the Massey family realizes that they had been arriving at the beach at the "wrong" time. Chapter VIII describes their faux pax. "Every afternoon about four o'clock we'd drive over to the beach and Mrs. Massey and I would sit on the sand and watch the girls bathing; but neither there nor anywhere else did anybody seem to be aware of there being such a thing in the world as a Massey." "But one morning at breakfast, along toward the end of June, Enid said she'd found out that we'd been making a great mistake 'Nobody except maids and nurses and children and chauffeurs go to the beach in the afternoon the way we do,' she said. 'I though they were a pretty queer-looking crowd there, even in their bathing-suits. Everybody in Mary's Neck goes to the beach about eleven and stays until lunch time; that's when they all meet and have a good time together, and if you don't go then and do go at any other hour it simply shows you don't know-you're all wrong." Once they learned the proper time to go to the beach, their next adventures involved getting to know the correct sort of people to break into resort society with their best foot forward.
The rest of this charming novel revolves around their adventures of attempting to "belong" in the society of "Mary's Neck", the mistakes they made, the differences of the resort families/society to what they were used to back home, and their new gained love for the resort village. The family leaves after Labor Day and plan to return in the spring before the season begins. The villagers and the town have become a welcome part of their world and new existence as part of the American well-to-do set with a beach home in New England.