Books: The Wouk Mutiny

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(3 of 9)

First, there is a holdover from Bronx days named George Drobes, who intrigues Margie because he has a jalopy named Penelope and his kisses tingle. But to Mama, George is just a snuffling auto mechanic. When the wealthy son of a department-store owner brings Margie home after a horseback-riding spill in Central Park, Mama lights up. But her social grasp exceeds the Morgenstern economic reach, and the new romance fades. Margie doesn't really care. Her destiny, she feels, is to be an actress. She has long since scribbled her stage name on a scrap of paper—MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR.

When she wants to talk about what is closest to her heart—the glorious career of Marjorie Morningstar—she goes to the West gos brownstone flat of her dearest friend, a' fat, good-natured girl with intellectual pretensions named Marsha Zelenko. Marsha lives with her parents in an apartment decorated with Mexican copper plates, Chinese screens and African masks. Papa Zelenko strums the balalaika: Mama Zelenko pounds out Bach on the piano. After Margie scores a hit in a Hunter College production of The Mikado, Marsha gets her a job as dramatic coach at a children's camp in the Adirondacks. Across the lake is an adult-resort camp named South Wind, and South Wind, Mama Morgenstern snorts, is nothing less than Sodom.

Virgin on the Verge. To Sodom, of course, the girls surreptitiously go. There Marjorie meets Noel Airman (real name: Saul Ehrmann), who has red hair, a handsome profile and the glamorous job of putting on revues at South Wind. To the despair of Noel's aspiring, pimply assistant, Wally Wronken, Airman is a triple-threat man—an artist, a libertine and an intellectual who can shred phony highbrows "like a flame thrower."

When Noel gets around to shredding Margie's shirtwaist in his cabin one cozy evening, Margie does a sudden uncooperative freeze. Noel turns eloquently nasty and, incidentally, states the main theme of the book: "Your name is Shirley," he tells Marjorie, "the respectable girl, the mother of the next generation, all tricked out to appear gay and girlish and carefree, but with a terrible threatening solid dullness jutting through, like the gray rocks under the spring grass in Central Park . . . What [Shirley] wants is what a woman should want . . . big diamond engagement ring, house in a good neighborhood, furniture, children, well-made clothes, furs—but she'll never say so. Because in our time those things are supposed to be stuffy and dull . . . She's Lady Brett Ashley,* with witty, devil-may-care whimsey and shocking looseness all over the place. A dismal caricature, you understand, and nothing but talk . . . To simulate Lady Brett, however, as long as she's in fashion, Shirley talks free and necks on a rigidly graduated scale . . . She can find no guidance anywhere . . . In literature her problem doesn't exist. The old novels are all about Jane Austen and Dickens heroines ... And the new novels are all more or less about Brett Ashley, who sleeps with any guy who really insists, but is a poetic pure tortured soul at heart. This leaves Shirley squarely in the middle. What can she do . . .?"

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