Wisdom of MY Words

Random Musings & Book Reviews

Archive for October, 2013

21 October
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The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

Besides the tedium of reading independently published books to see what the landscape is like, since I reside in the frozen hinterland of Minnesota, I also read MN-based authors to see the landscape. Webb is a MN-based author, so I picked up the book.

Hallie James/Halcyon Crane picks up and leaves Seattle/Puget Sound for Grand Manitou Island, an island much like any other island in the US situated in the waters of Lake Superior. Now, as a gal who grew up with Lake Michigan shimmering it’s grey-blue glassy water on an overcast day, viewed from her dormer window, I have never understood the fans of Lake Superior. That being said Crane is so grandiose and naive that her character became quite grating.

No one ever moves to an isolated small island town and is automatically befriended (except perhaps by a gentleman who wants to get in her knickers.) Moving to small isolated, inbred towns is what makes horror stories and movies great. It is also what creates despondency in new residents. They aren’t welcomed!

Minneapolis, that big city down from Duluth that can’t support a Neiman-Marcus, happens to be just as icy. If you are not an indigenous Minnesotan, you are not welcomed. Minnesotans go away for college and come back to their high school friends and extended family. New comers, even those of us who come here for University, are unwelcomed.

Crane believes she’s owed explanations from the residents of this insular island because she moved there after her father died, and after being notified that she was left millions and a gorgeous mansion by her renowned-photographer mother.

There are malevolent ghosts, there is a weird guy who runs the coffee shop, and a local lawyer, who is in charge of her mother’s estate. The attorney and Crane dine together, taking a carriage to dinner, since no cars are allowed on the island (oh! That sounds like Mackinac to me!) Then, suddenly they are in love!

Most of the Crane story is told by a witch, Iris, who had to be over 105 years old. I liked the book overall, I just thought there were major flaws in Crane’s personality. She just isn’t believable. My daughter went to Duluth for college last year and could not stop telling me how much she absolutely despised Duluth. The weather, the cold rude people, the complete abandonment of anything close to society, the abundance of snow and trees and nothing to do but drink because it was so bloody awful there. She’s a MN girl, my daughter, and she only made friends with people from St. Paul and some Twin Cities suburban kids, she made no friends from Duluth or other rural towns; she said they were all ass-backwards and closed down. That made me laugh, and made me pick up this book.

I honestly WANT to like Webb and her writing, but I can’t get there. We tweeted and she’s one of those women who thinks her perspective on everything, especially Minnesota, is right and there is no room for any one else’s opinion. Her tweet to me also said “casserole,” which is NOT a Minnesota word, these people call it a “hot dish.” The whole concept of hot dish has eluded me for years until I did some research.

The annoying book, “How to Talk Minnesotan,” states, “A traditional main course, hot dish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers.” In short, a hot dish is a casserole, and the name is purely Minnesotan.

The origins of the casserole/hot dish are shady. Wikipedia says it evolved from budget farmers needing to feed their large Midwestern families. Another theory is that it originated from the Norwegian word “varmrett”, meaning “warm dish”. Both make sense, as there are both a lot of farmers and a lot of Norwegians in this region. In turn, casserole comes from the French word for “saucepan”, in reference to the baking dish.

Minnesota is mostly Scando, not much French, so as someone who is French (and a fluent speaker), I’m going with the whole Scando thing.

But, I digress. The Tale of Halcyon Crane was an easy read, but don’t be surprised if you find the book hard to swallow, like a starchy, tator-tot hot dish.