The Last Read of my Summer Reads is always my Favourite | Review of “The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish” by Allan Stratton (2014) Dundurn

There is always one read that sits on my reading table on during a season that remains desired yet I never seem to get to. At the start of the summer, I had the pleasure of hearing Allan Stratton read from his novel The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish. The book sat thereafter on my reading shelf waiting to be read. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I had the time to not only to read but to savour the whimsical story that Stratton has written. It was a joyful effort.

Page 11 The Vision

Mary Mabel’s decision to kill herself wasn’t taken lightly.  She’d considered it off and on every since she was ten. That’s when she and her papa, Brewster McTavish, had arrived on the doorstep of the Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies, a Gothic flurry of  turrets, parapets, corbelled chimneys, gargoyles, dormers and widow’s walks, more apt for the housing of bats than the delinquent daughters of the idle rich.

Stratton has written an excellent book here set in the 1930’s depression. The protagonist, Mary Mabel McTavish is recovering in the town hospital after a suicide attempt. Little Timmy Beeford is brought into emergency after being electrocuted at an evangelical road show. Little Timmy is pronounced dead but Mary Mabel is convinced (she believes by her dead mother) to lay her hands on the boy. Little Timmy comes back to life. Mary is vaulted into the world of stardom and celebrity that she is loathed to deal with.

Page 153 Truth versus Truth

Seeing herself on the silver screen gave Mary Mabel palpitations. The Twins said she mustn’t feel self-conscious, that the mole above her lip hardly showed at all.

“Nonsense,” she wept. “Everything shows. My face is so big the entire town could crawl up my nose.”

“So what?” Floyd consoled. “A little plainness makes a person look sincere.”

Mary Mabel could have smacked him. Most embarrassing to her was having to stand outside the theatre each night in her nurses outfit. She tried to refuse. “People will stare!”

“That’s the idea.” Floyd said. “Just imagine you’re an actress. The uniform is your costume.”

While Stratton has written a story set in the 1930s, the themes he covers are still issues for us today. Things like the religious right, media, celebrity and so forth are mixed together here with a big mixture of folly that makes this book both a great and enlightening read.

Page 230 Scandal

William Randolph Hearst was immersed in clarity: the lake of spring water that filled the Neptune Pool at his castle at San Simeon. Soon guests would be arriving from Hollywood for a weekend of horseback riding. Early birds Erroll Flynn, Dick Powell, and Charlie Chaplin had already unpacked and hit the tennis courts. Marion was playing hostess. He’d join them, but for the moment preferred his solitude, swimming brisk lengths over the green mosaics that lined the basin floor, past the marble statues of Venus, mermaids and cherubs that graced the deck, and between the Roman Colonnades that bracketed this piece of heaven.

It was a great day to be alive. At his age, every day was. Not that he wasn’t at the top of his game. He’d been the first to puff Mary Mabel McTavish. He’d had the smarts to scout K. O. Doyle , too. Between the girl’s story and the kid’s rat-a-tat-tatty prose, the public couldn’t get enough. Neither could he. As the miracles multiplied like the loaves and fishes, his brain had been on fire. Mary Mabel’s life was the stuff of biopics. A natural for his Cosmopolitan Pictures. A vehicle for his sweetie. Marion was a bit old for the part, but so what? Better too old than too young. The idea of Shirley Temple raising the dead gave him gas.

The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish by Allan Stratton is a strong, enlightening and joyful read. While it illuminates the social scene of the 1930s, it also has themes that pertain to today.

Link to Allan Stratton’s website

Link to Dundurn’s page for The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish

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