|#54: Mallory and the Dream Horse
||[Oct. 24th, 2010|10:34 pm]
Baby-sitters Club Snark-fest!
Man, guys. You get married, you move 400 miles away, you buy a house, and you COMPLETELY fall behind in your snarking duties. I’ve been wanting to do this book for a long time, because I never had a horse phase. I’ve never really liked them. The only time I ever rode a horse was on a little trail ride with my mom when I was five, and I had this horse with dysentery. I’m serious, this horse did NOT STOP SHITTING for over a mile, and it was actually eating while it walked so that it would not have to stop shitting even to reload. Just this endlessly leaking animal that smelled like a combination sewer and catacombs. There’s a connection here to Mallory, but I’ve forgotten what it was.
“Jessi and I love horses. In fact you could say we are horse-crazy.” I have no idea why, but that line causes my skin to attempt to crawl away. Probably because titling an earlier book Boy-Crazy Stacey gives a really distasteful interpretation to that line. Mal doesn’t ONLY perv on horses, though; she seems to spend quite a bit of time perving on Jessi in this book, noting her “long, slim legs, beautiful neck, and slender fingers.” Um...is that really how eleven-year-olds describe their platonic best friends? I mean, from a purely objective perspective I think my best friend is hot, but if you asked me to describe why in detail, I’d say, “She’s blonde and has a huge rack.”
“Anyway,” Mal continues, “Jessi was lying on my bed with one of her legs extended in the air...I’ve gotten so used to it that I hardly notice it anymore.” The fact that she doesn’t notice Jessi’s flexible maneuvering does not stop her from mentioning it twice more in this chapter. Mmmm-hmmm. Mal’s also busy reading Black Beauty. I mean...just...think about it. I will never again accuse the ghosties of being incapable of a good metaphor.
They give up on reading their horse books to watch The Black Stallion, but they can’t hear it with the Pike kids galloping around on mop horses and abusing their hamster, so they just give up and talk about their favorite subject: horses. Mallory sighs, a little creepily, that she wants a pure white Arabian “with a long flowing mane and warm brown eyes.” Don’t forget his beautiful neck and slender fingers. She says he’d be smart enough to go get help if she fell and broke her ankle in the woods. I’m incredibly amused that her fantasies don’t entail her being some kind of super-amazing rider, just that her horse won’t leave her for dead when she inevitably bites it in the dirt.
Incoming BSC tropes!
• Hollywood Stopped Making Films in 1963: “Remember that old movie with Shirley Temple called The Little Princess? She played a rich girl named Sara Crewe in Victorian England who had her own pony,” says Jessi. Mallory wistfully says she’d give anything to be Sara Crewe and have her own horse. Doesn’t Sara Crewe end up a starving, penniless servant for most of that movie? I like to imagine that she had to resort to eating her horse. Which would probably still be a step up from life in the Pike house.
• Eleven Is Not Actually the New Thirty-Five: Mal and Jessi decide to close their eyes and count to ten, and all their horse-related fantasies will come true. (...Insert your own joke of dubious taste here.) When Nicky interrupts before they reach ten, Mallory shrieks that they’re “doing something very important here.” And yet you know they would be totally indulgent and condescending had their charges been doing the same thing.
The rest of the chapter is pretty uninteresting, just typical Pike-Brand Wackiness™. While I was skimming I thought I saw a line about Vanessa being on the pole, but it was a false alarm.
Chapter 2! Mallory gets a brochure in the mail about riding lessons at a local stable and shrieks that now she can ride a horse without OWNING one! Did that actually never occur to her before? Sometimes Mallory makes me feel sad. But I’m instantly cheered up when she glances at the mantel clock and gasps, “The Baby-sitter’s Club!” Really, imagine her looking at the clock and GASPING, out loud, “The Baby-sitter’s Club!” and just try to keep a straight face. I bet she clutched her forehead, too. She only has 20 minutes to get to Claudia’s, which luckily is just enough time to tell us the entire history of the BSC. I give it a cursory scan only to see if her bike goes to get help when she rides into a mailbox while moonily branding Stacey “The Queen of Dibbleness.” No such luck.
Mallory rushes excitedly into the meeting to show Jessi the brochure and says she’ll finally get to ride a horse like Sara Crewe. Kristy and Claudia don’t have any clue what she’s talking about. What could possibly be hard to understand about this? The only way they could have failed to notice her horse obsession would be blindness and profound hearing loss. Jessi and her “shining brown eyes” (are those more or less attractive than the dream Arabian’s “warm brown eyes,” do you think?) are totes excited, though. Mal says she doesn’t pay any attention during the rest of the meeting because she’s too lost in her horse fantasy, but somehow she still knows exactly who booked what jobs. Ghostwriters are still having problems with the old “show” and “tell” discrepancy again, I see. Kristy finally snaps her out of it by saying, “Yoo-hoo, pardner...Time to saddle up your horse and head back to the corral.” Words frequently heard in those Victorian English stables, of course.
Chapter 3! Mallory has a sitting job with Nina and Eleanor Marshall, and Nina’s bummed because she started preschool and all the kids teased her for bringing Blankie. I can’t recap too much of this, because I woke up one morning about a month ago and went “I WANT A BABY RIGHT NOW.” (I swear, I was totally ambivalent about kids altogether up until that point. I have no idea what came over me, but I haven’t ruled out food poisoning. Whatever it is, I hope it passes soon, because my husband has taken to spending a lot of time in the basement.) Anyway, because Eleanor seems to be the only toddler in all of Stoneybrook who is adorable and not irritating as fuck, I can’t read much about her without my uterus lurching around demanding sperm.
Chapter 4! Mallory is prepared to suck up like she’s never sucked up before, except the time she wanted her ears pierced and she basically claimed she’d stay chained up in the attic for the rest of her life it they let her buy some clothes. She busts out a super-detailed posterboard schedule to show her parents how the 10 am Saturday riding class won’t interfere with BSC meetings or anything. I don’t think she needed a visual aid to prove that Monday, Wednesday, and Friday do not coincide with Saturday. Also, all the club members seem to have plenty of freedom to come and go as they please; she certainly wouldn’t have asked permission to schedule a weekly sitting job on Saturday mornings. They don’t jump for joy when she hits them with the price, though, so she offers to pay for half, which will make riding lessons cheaper for them than Jordan’s piano lessons. Why in the world would she think they won’t let her take riding lessons if they let Jordan take piano? Like I’ve said before, I think they tell her no to things they don’t care about just so she’ll pay for it herself and do a bunch of random chores too.
Once Mal gets the green light, she calls Jessi, omitting any sensual adjectives in her excitement. Jessi’s bummed because her bargaining didn’t go over too well — her parents nixed riding lessons because they think ballet and sitting already take up enough time. Again, if she babysat for an hour every Saturday morning they wouldn’t give a shit, so what difference does it make if she rides instead? They could have just said ballet lessons are expensive enough as it is, but no, that would make sense and the ghostwriters are not fond of such things. They get off the phone (sadly, no one says “I’m going to hang up now and think some more about what you said”) just as all the Pike kids rush in. They announce they’re going to put on a talent show open to all the neighborhood kids and run it all by themselves. Kristy is going to shank them for stealing her thunder. Mal just blows them off, though, because she doesn’t think the idea will get off the ground.
Chapter 5: riding lessons at last! Unsurprisingly, Mallory’s completely in love with Lauren Kendall, her riding instructor, who is both British and dressed “like she had just stepped off the cover of Horse and Rider magazine...I made a silent vow to be just like her when I grew up.” That’s going to be hard considering she’s already vowed to be Amelia Moody, Henrietta Hayes, and Claudia when she grows up. Then again, you know Mallory’s the kind of girl who would put on an appallingly fake English accent because she thinks it makes her sound sophisticated. Also, Sammie’s been editing at Scholastic again, because Mallory says there are five other kids in her class, and four paragraphs later she studies her classmates and notes four boys and seven other girls. Nice.
She already stands out in the class of six or twelve, and not in a good way, because instead of the jodhpurs and fancy helmets everyone else has, Mallory’s wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, winter boots, and her dad’s gloves. Well, doesn’t she look...um, poor. But whatever, this class is only eight lessons and that shit’s expensive, so Snooty McBitch next to her can suck it. Also, really — ALL the other brand new riders buy the total package? I used to figure skate and you do not invest in a competition quality pair of skates (800 bucks, minimum) for the first time you step on the ice. You’d probably break your leg, for one thing.
Despite looking like Little Orphan Equestrian, Mallory doesn’t do too badly at getting on her horse and walking around the ring. I know that proper English riding is difficult once you get into it, but I would hope that anyone can just sit there while the horse walks. Of course, she immediately gets distracted when she spots her dream horse across the ring — “an Arabian with a beautiful head and delicate nostrils.” She’s admiring HORSE NOSTRILS? I’m sorry, guys, Mallory is a PERVERT. My husband delusionally believes I’m a goddess, but even he has never complimented my soft nasal hair.
She gets through the rest of the class without disaster, and “then came my favorite part of the whole day: the cool down and grooming.” That strikes me like saying the best part of having a dog is clipping its nails. She brushes her horse next to the Dream Stallion to better ogle his heaving flanks and grill the rider about him. The boy brushing him just shrugs and tells her that the horse, Pax, isn’t his; it belongs to the stable. Mallory is shocked that he doesn’t seem to appreciate the sex appeal of the Stallion. Maybe he just doesn’t swing that way, Mal. That’s okay, though, she thinks, because now SHE has a chance to ride him. The horse, I mean. (Rim shot.)
She rushes home to call Jessi and tell her every last excruciating detail of the lesson, including Pax’s “great personality” (how much can you possibly tell about the personality of a horse you saw once and didn’t even ride?) and the way he danced. Well, trotted, but looked like he was dancing. Given Mal’s way with words, I imagine he looked exactly like a horse plodding along. Jessi just goes, “Yeah, whatever,” and pretty much hangs up on her. Mal stares at the receiver and “a disturbing thought came to me. Could I somehow have done something to make my best friend angry with me?” Gee, Mal, it’s not possible that she’s just feeling jealous and left out. Your powers of inference will surely serve you well as a writer.
Chapter 6: The Rebellion of the Uterus! It’s Jessi’s turn to babysit Nina and Eleanor, and Nina’s still bummed about preschool and won’t let go of Blankie. Jessi compares the kids teasing Nina about Blankie to the racism she experienced when she moved to Stoneybrook. Is there a race-related version of Godwin’s Law? I’m just going to call it Jessi’s Law for now. Jessi tells Nina about being ostracized and says, “They were unkind to me just because I was different. But soon they got to know me, and now I have lots of friends.” I ranted about this once before when Norman Hill had to lose weight to make friends, but why the hell would you WANT to be friends with people who hated you for being black? I’m pretty sure saying, “Once I got to know you, it turned out you WEREN’T as horrible as I expected!” is still some racist shit.
Plot-device-ily, the Pike kids show up just then holding door-to-door auditions for their talent show. Nina isn’t keen on them, but I bet that’s because they’re all dressed as clowns. Nobody likes a clown. Jessi lets them show off their talents in the backyard, which are all stupid, of course — for example, Vanessa’s talent is going down the slide at the speed of a garden slug because her bare legs are stuck on the metal. Amazing. Claire comes out with some crap Jessi says she “must have just found in the garage” (a five-year-old goes over to a stranger’s house and roots through their garage?) and juggles it, which means throwing it all in the air and letting it bounce off her head. A lot about the Pike children is suddenly clear to me at this moment. Somehow Nina is still not impressed, but Jessi figures she’ll get over it eventually and “join the fun.” Some kids just don’t think it’s fun to be in a talent show, Jessi. Get over it.
Chapter 7! Mallory shows up super early to the next lesson to make sure she gets to ride the Dream Stallion this time, and also so that she’ll have time to harass other people into being friends with her. The first girl to show up is named Allison Anders (which is so dangerously close to Alice Anderson that she’s going to have to change it to get Mallory to stop stalking her) and is an insta-bitch. She merely takes in Mal’s getup and says she thought they were supposed to wear proper attire for riding. Meow.
Mallory desperately hugs Pax all, “At least YOU still love me, RIGHT?!” He gets uneasy and nudges her, probably hoping she isn’t going to start telling him she loves him and pretending to be drunk to get his attention. She takes this encouragingly and he gives her “another little nudge as if to say, ‘You’re as good as they are. Get out there and let them know that.’ ” He’s a horse, Mal. I think his thought process is “Hurrr-de-hurrr, I hope someone gives me some hay.”
She gets up the courage to try to say hello to someone else, a girl named Megan who already has eight horses of her own. How Mallory doesn’t just throw herself on the ground weeping and kissing this girl’s feet, we will never know. Megan’s parents just wanted her to learn English style from someone else, so Mallory tries to make it sound like she’s already a Western style riding expert herself. I bet Megan can tell just from looking at Mallory that this is a total lie. Mal tries to give Megan her phone number, but Megan suddenly pretends to be distracted by her horse, jerking its reins and calling it an idiot. I’d be miffed she’s treating an innocent animal that way, but you do what you gotta do in these survival situations.
After class Mallory corners David, the kid who rode Pax last week, and starts talking his ear off about her entire life story. I know EXACTLY what Mallory Pike is going to be like in college, and I bet you do too. She enthuses a while about how “horse-crazy” she is, but isn’t everyone? Tee-hee! I seem to have spilled my drink! After a while it actually occurs to her that he hasn’t said a word, and she asks why he’s taking the class. His parents made him, he says flatly. Oh. This does not deter her at all and she hands out a Post-it with her number again — “If he didn’t want it, he could have given it back, right?” Or he could have fed it to a horse when your back was turned.
At home, she calls Jessi and blabs on and on about all her great new friends, who have probably already clambered to switch to a different riding class to avoid her. Jessi is totally uninterested. Well, fine, be that way, Mal thinks. She has all her great new riding friends now! Except she concludes the chapter by saying that by the end of the week, not one of them has called her. I’m amazed she didn’t camp out in Pax’s stall, reading him poetry.
Chapter 8: “Thunk! I hit the ground so hard the wind was knocked out of me.” GO GET HELP, DREAM STALLION! Oh, she wasn’t riding Pax this week. She’s on Gremlin, “the horse Megan had struggled with the week before.” Gremlin keeps bucking and trying to knock her off because he hates her and the whole world. Probably because his name is Gremlin and the other horses in the stable got nice names like Isabelle. These are Isabelles. These are Gremlins. I’d be pissed too. He finally succeeds in flipping her out of the saddle, and she hits her head on the ground and thinks she might die. If I were her, I’d be really pissed that the riding instructor gave a beginning rider a horse that was bucking too hard to even be mounted without help. “NOT HER!” Gremlin was clearly screaming. “GIVE ME THE GIRL WHO YANKS ON ME AND CALLS ME AN IDIOT! ANYBODY BUT HER!”
Lauren reassures Mal that everybody takes a spill like this sometimes, but her mother better come pick her up just to be on the safe side. Everybody in the class snickers and Mallory feels like a total loser. Awww, Mal. You ARE a loser, but not because of this. Also, you wouldn’t last two seconds as a figure skater.
Mallory’s parents are appropriately worried and drag her to the hospital, who declare her shaken up but not injured — she can keep riding as long as she doesn’t get on Gremlin again. But it’s no use, Mal laments. Now she’s terrified to get on ANY horse, even her beautiful Dream Stallion. She can’t quit, though: “I’d never see Pax again. How could I stop seeing my dream horse?” You could just bike over to the stable and LOOK at him, you know. Or...take a picture. If you don’t want to ride him anyway, it can’t possibly make a difference. But worst of all, she thinks, is that she can’t talk to Jessi about her fears. Yeah, it would be like crawling back to your ex after your hot new stallion bucks you.
Chapter 9! While Mal’s at a riding lesson, the “Stars of Tomorrow” talent auditions take place in the Pike backyard under the watchful eyes of Claudia and Mary Anne. I grind my teeth that the ghosties still think you can have a random third-person chapter in a first-person book. YOU CAN’T. GEEZ. It’s appropriately boring, with untalented kids (and for some reason most of their pets) doing untalented things. We’re supposed to see that Nina is being hindered by Blankie because she’s traumatized when Carrot the schnauzer tries to chew it up, but whatever, I’d be pissed if someone’s dog chewed on my stuff too. Also, somehow Mallory knows from all the way across town that “Claud tucked a strand of her long dark hair behind one ear.” Instead of assuming this is just poor writing, I’m going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and assume that Mallory has a hidden camera trained on Claudia at all times.
Chapter 10! Mallory’s new horse, Twilight, hates her too. Oh my god. It just suddenly occurred to me what Mal would be like if she read Twilight. I bet she would send obsessive letters to Stephenie Meyer demanding to know exactly where Edward is, because he CAN’T be made up. HE’S TOO REAL. SHE MUST HAVE HIM. If Edward actually made her a vampire, her super special vampire ability would be growing her fingernails. Anyway, she can’t even get Twilight stopped without help, which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering she was doing fine in her first two lessons.
Once everybody finishes laughing at Mallory’s horrendous riding, Lauren announces that they only have two lessons left, then they’ll have a big horse show to show off what they learned. Mal instantly starts plotting to break her leg or catch the measles to avoid being in the show. Why not just say you’re not going to be in it? Just because you took the class doesn’t make it mandatory. Just like being a child in Stoneybrook doesn’t make being in the Pikes’ talent show mandatory, JESSI.
Some girl named Amber also takes the opportunity before Mallory starts fumbling around and trampling innocent onlookers to announce that her birthday party is on Wednesday and it’d be, like, way rad if everybody could come. Mallory suddenly feels better — “Amber had invited me to her birthday party. Maybe she liked me after all.” Um...she didn’t exactly invite you personally, Mal. Sometimes her lack of social skills really makes me cringe. On the way back to the stable, horse abuser Megan reveals that Amber’s parties are always great. Everyone in the riding class goes to them, of course, because they all go to the same school. (Stoneybrook Day? Stoneybrook Academy? The oft-mentioned but never seen Kelsey Middle School? How many middle schools are there in this small town, anyway?) Mallory realizes this is why she felt like an outsider, but that’s all about to change. They’re going to be her new best friends!
Or...maybe not. Three days later Mal rolls up to Amber’s mansion outside of town (the fact that she does not remind us Kristy also lives in a mansion is frankly shocking) wearing a gold kilt and penny loafers. All the other girls are wearing “wacky bright clothes with spiked hair and tons of fun jewelry...I felt as if I were dressed for Sunday school.” Don’t worry, Mal, in fifteen years they’re going to look at pictures of this party and be really embarrassed. Amber’s nice enough to her (well, nice enough to “Valerie,” anyway) but doesn’t introduce her around. No one really talks to her, so she drinks ten glasses of punch and scarfs half a dozen sandwiches to eat her feelings until her mom comes to pick her up.
She rushes home to call Jessi and tell her the worst thing ever just happened. Jessi is sympathetic until Mal reveals that the worst thing ever was this big party that Jessi totally wasn’t invited to. Also, the way she describes it makes it sound awesome. Jessi’s sarcastically like, “Gee, sounds terrible,” and basically hangs up on her again. And then Mal has nightmares about punch. Tragic.
Chapter 11 — the last riding lesson! Mallory wants to be happy, but she still has to face the horse show. Plus, now her whole family and all her friends are coming because the stable sent home notices and her mother told Stacey’s mother, who told Stacey. Or you could have just said, “Thank you, but I am not planning on being in the show.” The only way she’s going to get through it is if she can ride the Dream Stallion — no other horse makes her feel so safe, so secure, so loved. Gross. Lauren says that they’re going to draw numbers one to six (so there are actually six in the class, then?) to choose the horse they’re going to ride in the show. Mallory’s heart sinks when Kelsey, the bitch who made fun of her clothes in the first class, draws number one and gets to pick first. Surely she’ll pick Pax, who eats gold hay and shits rainbows and shows us the meaning of haste! But no, actually, she picks some horse named Brandy. Maybe because Kelsey, unlike Mallory, has an ounce of common sense and realizes that the prettiest horse isn’t automatically the best behaved or easiest-to-ride horse. Mallory draws number two and all but pees on Pax to claim him. “Pax would be all mine,” she gloats. “And right when I really needed him.” Do you think she hangs around the stable to key the cars of everyone who rides the Dream Stallion when she’s not around?
Chapter 12! It’s Dawn’s turn at the Marshalls’ this week. Eleanor is adorably going around with a saucepan on her head and I get so misty I try to mount my husband in the middle of a crucial Bears game. Okay, self, focus. FOCUS. Nina’s anxiously hovering around the dryer waiting for Blankie to be finished, but bad news — the thing’s so shoddily made it falls apart in Dawn’s hands when she tries to take it out. Nina screams bloody murder, as you do when the babysitter cruelly murders your best friend right in front of you. Thinking fast, Dawn stuffs a little murdered piece of Blankie in Nina’s pocket, one up her sleeve, one in her shoe, and so on. Now Nina can still take Blankie everywhere, but no one will know! Nina is far happier about this than I would have been. I know I like to hate on Dawn, but that was a really good save.
Chapter 13! Okay, okay, it was a nice save, but the dick-stroking contest that ensues at the next BSC meeting about all the times they’ve solved their charges’ problems is still not worth recapping. I’m going to assume the reader of this book has already perused the previous 53 titles and therefore does not need to be told, again, about the time Mallory revealed to Mrs. Arnold that it wasn't the quaaludes making her see double, she actually had two children.
Finally Mary Anne asks Mal how the horse show’s coming, and a dam bursts — Mallory starts sobbing about how she’s scared of horses and all five or eleven of her classmates don’t talk to her and she thinks Pax might be seeing another woman. I bet Mary Anne’s really sorry she asked now. They reassure her that it’s totally normal to be scared of horses, because they are enormous and stupid animals that could pop your head like a watermelon if they so choose.
After the meeting, Jessi says she had no idea Mallory felt that way; why didn’t she say something? Mal says she didn’t think she wanted to hear it — after all, she wasn’t too excited to hear all about the great lessons and beautiful horses and rich friends. Jessi’s like, “Duh, I was jealous?” They make up, of course, and Mallory could not be happier. I bet Jessi’s totally thinking those lessons were wasted on Mallory, because she’s coordinated enough not to have fallen off and developed a mental block.
Chapter 14 — dear god, I might make it! The day of the horse show is here and Mallory’s hair looks like crap. I mean, she says so, but otherwise we probably could have assumed. The good news is that Lauren has come to her house to lend her a full riding habit so she won’t look like too much of a loser in the show. I imagine this is as much to save Lauren from embarrassment as Mallory. Mal’s a total wreck the rest of the morning and keeps herself from going completely insane by arriving early to the stable to braid, bow, and bedazzle every square inch of poor Pax. There are a bunch of other classes competing, but for some reason no one in a different class needs to ride Pax. How many horses would a stable like this have, anyway?
They finally get out there to compete and Lauren explains to them exactly what they will be doing — don’t worry, nothing they can’t handle! “Twelve nervous riders exhaled at once, and we all started giggling.” ...So there are twelve people in the class. Or six. I’m so glad this has been made clear. Mallory gets through everything without disaster and gloats a little too much when she notices others’ mistakes, considering how she felt when they made fun of HER riding. She ends up placing sixth out of twelve (although, based on the selection procedure, only those six were actually riding horses; I guess the others just galloped around making pony noises). Anyway, she’s exactly average. Just like everywhere else in her life.
Now that they know she isn’t the very worst in the show, her parents think she’s going to have a bright future as an equestrian and offer to cover the full cost of continuing lessons. Mallory has to pluck up her courage and admit she’s actually scared of horses since that fall. Her mother very sensibly asks if continuing to ride wouldn’t get her over that fear, and Mal’s like, “Maybe. But no.” I’m a little incredulous that someone who loves horses as inappropriately as she does wouldn’t try a little harder to get over it. She goes to the stable to say goodbye to Pax, but she can’t make herself say the words, so she just hugs him and cries. Jessi, teary herself, says, “You’re so lucky to have known him, even if it was for a short time.” Oh my GOD, the horse isn’t DYING. It’s like the end of Beaches in here.
Chapter 15! Ugh, the Stars of Tomorrow show is actually going on. I used to get wild ideas like that too, but I always lost interest way before they actually came to fruition. I still have sketches of a go-kart I was going to build that was going to be run on lighter fluid and banana peels. The show is, predictably, a fiasco, with Pow running away and Sean Addison losing an entire tuba. The only surprise is that Nicky comes out on stilts and Mallory is shocked he knows how to do that. When Dawn asks if he’s been practicing at home, Mallory just shrugs and says she’s been preoccupied. Too preoccupied to notice an eight-foot-tall second grader ambling through her house? Jesus. Mallory knows she’s been neglecting a lot lately, but those days are over and now “loving horses from a distance was fine enough for me.” It will have to be, once Pax files that restraining order.