Calendar Girl

 
I Went to Vassar for This?
by Naomi Neale
(Dorchester "Making It", $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52686-7
****
Imagine a caustic, self-absorbed, and workaholic twenty-first-century chick suddenly catapulted back into the late fifties. How ever will she cope in a world where great strides for gender equality have yet to occur? Although I Went to Vassar for This? isn't exactly Bridget Jones up against the feminine mystique (we're talking Manhattan working girls, not repressed suburban housewives), it comes close.

When advertising executive wannabe Cathy Voorhees is told to take time to reassess what is important in life, she doesn't think it is meant literally. At least, not until a microwave explosion sends her hurtling through the space-time continuum. She wakes up in 1959, answering to the name of Cathy Voight. Instead of occupying her expensive, but sparsely decorated apartment, she is sharing space with two other women. Instead of making multi-million dollar advertising account pitches, she is writing cookbooks.

Drawing on her familiarity with time-travel films, Cathy quickly takes stalk of her situation. If Peggy Sue Got Married and Back to the Future are anything to go by, she has to do something before she can return to her own time. The problem is she doesn't know what: Warn the Kennedys and Martin Luther King about their future assassinations? Fight rampant sexual and racial discrimination in the work place? Organize a sit-in against anti-semitism in New York's aristocratic circles? Or maybe all it takes is preparing a home- cooked meal for her landlord. Hank Cabot is certainly hot enough to make her seriously consider giving up her own time to remain in his.

If you don't like the arrogance, snarkiness and self-obsession of the average chick lit heroine, you aren't going to warm to Cathy Voorhees. She may not have a thing about boyfriends, shopping and shoes (unless it's to complain about the torture contraptions she is now forced to wear), but she has no compunction about singing her own praise and bemoaning her sorry fate. Once she realizes the mess she's in, self-deprecation kicks in. How humorous this is will depend on individual tastes. I found her wise-cracking check-lists forced and her observations on fashion and body size predictable. On the other hand, I laughed at her rants against Hank's juvenile penchant for big- busted Amazonians and at the on-going joke about which Armstrong took a giant step for mankind (certainly not Lance). Besides which, Cathy's utterly contemporary voice is perfect for teasing out fifties slang (you say "swell", I say "totally"; you say "how are we today", I say "whassup").

Cathy embodies the tough twenty-first-century businesswoman, but she instantly melts into a softer, gentler self. She is unable to stand up to lecherous male colleagues, but is heartbroken when her roommate falls for a closet gay man (and a very stereotypical one at that; I thought we modern chicks knew better than to equate masculine appreciation for photography and musicals with homosexuality). Only after much prodding can she tell off a sleazy ex-lover and reorganize her office the way she wants.

Cathy's inconsistent behavior leaves me confused. If the point of the trip was to give her some heart, she gets it way too soon. If it was to learn how to stand up for herself, she was doing fine without the added encouragement. In any case, I still don't understand how traveling back in time allows her to "test the consequences of thought", as she claims in just one of many citations on the value of studying history.

The one thing Cathy does discover is the wonders of a Real Man. Hank may not be a prototypical fifties male, but he is a fabulous hero. A gentleman with a hipster soul and a progressive vision, he knows when to defend his woman and when to let her go. No wonder Cathy finds it hard to leave him behind. She isn't likely to find a better man in her own times. Though I would be hard pressed to glean major insights from that outcome, it doesn't detract from my overall positive assessment. I Went to Vassar for This? offers a touching romance and several hours of pleasant, light-hearted fun. And isn't that totally swell?

--Mary Benn


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