Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review: Bring Me a Unicorn

Title: Bring Me a Unicorn
Author: Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Date: 1922-28 (manuscript), 1971 (hardcover), 1973 (paperback)
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon
Length: 212 pages plus index and photo insert
Illustrations: black and white photos
Quote: “I certainly was not going to worship ‘Lindy’ (that odious name, anyway).”
And of course Anne Morrow didn’t worship Charles Lindbergh. She only married him. Airplanes were new and thrilling at the time, and provided the couple’s greatest (mentionable) thrills. The journals and letters from Mrs. Lindbergh’s courtship years contain landscapes and seascapes, but the aerial views are obviously the sights she enjoyed recording most.
By the 1970s it was fashionable for older women, not young women, to appreciate Mrs. Lindbergh’s early writing. This volume is of course about the 1920s...and the fad of the period was for Cute Things. Peter Pan and Winnie-the-Pooh were being read by adults. “Flapper” girls whose short hair and skirts were supposed to show defiance of tradition still, like P.G. Wodehouse heroines, were apt to show boys their softer side by affecting baby-speak or claiming to believe in fairies. More sensible, moderate young women, like Anne Morrow, began letters with “My darling Mother” and carried on in the same vein: “Dear Grandma...It was very, very lovely and I shall always remember my nineteenth birthday and your eightieth.” Or, in a thank-you note when a school friend hid a devotional book under her pillow: “It made me so happy, especially the lovely sentiment in the beginning.”
It was downright embarrassing. People my age had little tolerance for sweetness. We strove for a cool, cynical view and admired books that showed the seamy sides of things. Novels about hardworking people struggling to bring up their children were criticized for not “facing the reality of sex.” (Note to twenty-somethings: part of the reality of sex is that, if you go on indulging every hormone surge for ten or fifteen years, one day you’ll have tots, teens, and tweens to deal with and you’ll be too tired to think about starting any more babies, too.) And here was young Anne Morrow just raving about books she read, the view from a ship, French landscapes, songs she heard, and never a word about unrequited lust or PMS or even acne. Many of us wanted to believe that that couldn’t be an honest image of a teenager.
Human nature may be half ape and half angel, and Mrs. Lindbergh may have insisted on recording only the angel sides of the people she knew, but then again the theme of all her writing was flight (of one kind or another). There was probably nothing more special about her personal hygiene than there was about Anne Frank’s or Sylvia Plath’s in the next generation. What Anne Morrow had to say really was about the books she read, the celebrities who socialized with her family, and of course the airplanes. Maybe it’s just as well that we’re not specifically told that the courting couple ever kissed. (Did she ever mention kissing even after marriage? No reference comes to mind, but maybe that’s because kissing is so much more fun to do than to read about.) Actually some of the descriptions of their flights read as if they might be metaphors for more ordinary things. Why should they not? We know the airplanes were real.
I mention this because the publisher’s efforts to “sell” this story as something like a novel seem oddly inappropriate after I’ve read the book. Was Anne Morrow really “a soul-searching heroine worthy of a Brontë novel”? ??? Jane Eyre or Shirley might have liked Anne Morrow, if they’d lived in the real world, but Cathy Earnshaw? I’m puzzled. Another blurb writer squealed, “[A]s I read, I felt, when, oh, Good Lord, when is he going to pop the question?” I felt able to wait.
Then again, being a feminist, I think that just about everything else women do is more interesting than “falling in love.” The book market is saturated with descriptions of the “in love” experience. When “in love” does happen to lead couples into real love, after the hormones have dried up, then their relationships become interesting to me. I knew the Lindberghs eventually got there, although their marriage was far from perfect. I wasn’t surprised that they weren’t there by the end of this book. At least Bring Me a Unicorn gives us the image of a girl who enjoys being a girl, who can listen to her heart without losing her head, and that is something. I'd like to see more young people appreciate the young writer’s voice in this book.
Some think Mrs. Lindbergh deserved to be remembered mostly for Gift from the Sea, a brief meditation on the bliss of solitude. Those readers may be interested in young Anne’s struggles with the morality-of-altruism of her day. Gift from the Sea is probably as much of a rebellion against that morality as Mrs. Lindbergh would ever have made. In Bring Me a Unicorn, she’s not even ready to question the subtle substitution of “others” for “God” in contemporary religious writing. She says things like, “Nothing I have ever been or done...is worth the smallest thing in your life” and “If I can do anything for you, then at least there is a reason for me.” And, “It is so easy to  do, such a frightful temptation, to get along with just a few chosen people—or the lack of them.” Her generation had a tendency to confuse autism and schizophrenia, so little they understood either condition, but most of them really seemed to believe that being able to enjoy solitude would lead to one of those diseases or the other.
Real altruism is not a morality but a pathology. As a pathological pseudo-morality it was particularly toxic to intelligent introverts like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who eventually became one of the guides who helped others to get free from it. But in Bring Me a Unicorn she’s still a long way from the liberation that would eventually allow her to celebrate solitude. She’s not a conscious feminist or a serious Christian, either. She's a teenager.
Anyway, Bring Me a Unicorn pulls together a lively portrait of a real girl “in love”  as part of the true story of a real marriage. Mrs. Lindbergh was more of a heroine than of a hero in her own right, throughout her life, but she had an interesting life and wrote about it well. If you want to read a true romance, this one is warmly recommended.

Bring Me a Unicorn is not a Fair Trade Book, but it's a small book that will fit nicely into a package with one. It's available from salolianigodagewi @ yahoo.com for $5 per book + $5 per package for shipping.