It's all about...popular girls...rec rooms...summers at the lake...dates with wealthy, thrill-crazy antiques...small town political corruption...and finding your true path in life. The Paris Hat considers the sometimes frothy, sometimes serious world of novels for teenage girls from the 1950s and 60s.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Trouble with Angels

Title: Angel on Skis
Author: Betty Cavanna
Publisher: William Morrow, 1957
Setting: the locals' side of a Vermont ski town
Provenance: Hazelton Library, Chillicothe, Missouri
Fun: Dartmouth boys, the Snow Carnival, making your own ski boots
Quote: "Let's forget what I said about the Franconia races," he suggested. "As a matter of fact I think you'd better quit racing for the rest of the year, Angie. You're trying too hard. You've lost the fun of skiing, somehow or other. And you're the sort of person who can't ski really well unless you're having fun."

Unlike some of Cavanna's other heroines, who come from middle-class intellectual families, Angela Dodge is a local in Peru, a small Vermont ski town. Her father has recently died and her mother is running a kind of bed and breakfast for the crowds who invade during the winter. Most of the local kids don't care much for skiing -- it's something outsiders do -- but Angela develops a passionate interest in it, in spite of the fact that the even the basic equipment is well beyond her means.

Angela's drive is the core of Angel on Skis. It carries Angela through financial setbacks, broken limbs, losing races and romantic disappointment, and it makes for a fascinating story, for Angel on Skis
turns out to be not so much about skiing, or love, but about the unstable nature of ambition. Angela loves skiing, but she also hates it. She gives up on it and she goes back to it. She dreams of it, especially after being told she has Olympic-caliber talent, but she abandons skiing after her first loss. And she learns, ultimately, that she won't ever do well unless she loves what she's doing, in spite of all the difficulties.

This is not one of those starry-eyed novels in which the heroine magically has enormous talent and wins all her races with ease. Cavanna puts Angela through real difficulties and real disappointments, and her message is clear: if you want to do anything, you have to work hard. But all your hard work won't avail if you don't love what you're doing.

At times I wondered if Cavanna was not writing about skiing, but about writing itself.

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