Washington Avalanche, 1910

I don’t know what to say about this other than, dear God, don’t read it, and don’t pay the twelve cents I paid for it, either.

Washington Avalanche 1910, Cameron Dokey, 2000.

washington avalanche

Fine. I’ll say something else. Dear God, don’t read it. This is one of those abysmal books that tried (in vain) to interest youth in an exciting historical occurrence (namely, the titular avalanche in 1910). But unfortunately while Dear America/Canada did this tolerably well (most of the time), this fails egregiously on a number of levels. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a romance, a history teacher, or an intrigue/thriller, and it is terrible at each one. Also, the main characters are deeply awful people, and not in a “Wow, what an interesting and flawed protagonist!” type way, but a “Why am I supposed to like these people and their problems?” type way.

This is your basic switcheroo-romance, except on a train, with snow. The protagonist, Virginia Nolan, lives in Spokane with her stepbrother and stepsister-in-law following the untimely death of her father and new stepmother in a freak accident on their honeymoon two years previously. Apparently, the Bankses, her step-family, are quite poor, while the Nolans were very wealthy, and the Bankses needed that sweet cash. The instigating problem is that Stephen, the stepbrother, has been stealing from the Nolan family money, intending to pay it back, but his investments failed, and now Ginny is slated to turn eighteen and inherit all the money and his theft will come to light. His genius plan is to marry Ginny off in a hurry, before she’s eighteen, so her fortune will be turned over to her husband and his theft will never come to life. To that end, he’s plotted for one of his greasy evil friends to sweep her off her feet and propose.

The unexplained flaws here are: how did Ginny find out about the theft, then? It’s predicated that she heard about the Evil Plan by eavesdropping, but…okay, wouldn’t the new husband figure it out eventually? Like, I presume at some point with his new fortune he’d want to see the ledgers rather than going “Look! Look at my amazing pile of money! I will in no way question any of this good fortune!” but I suppose if they’re trying to marry her off to this greasy dude it doesn’t matter anyway. Anyway, Ginny decides that she’s going to escape her cruel stepbrother by running away one evening before the greasy guy can propose (I suppose the idea of saying no was shot down somehow, somewhere), although it’s never explained with what money she’ll use to fund her new venture of living alone somewhere.

We spend thirty or so pages trying to get this lead balloon of a plot off the ground, and then once Ginny finally leaves the house, she’s swamped in a snowstorm so dreadful she can’t even see. She hails a hansom cab to take her to the train station while convinced Stephen is behind her every step of the way. This entire scene reads like someone who has never actually experienced a snowstorm before. Anyway, she makes it to the train and dashes on board just as it’s getting ready to leave, but that dastardly Stephen got there anyway. Ginny spots a girl who looks just like her, who beckons her over and hides her beneath the bed of her sleeper car, and Stephen storms around the train until the conductor throws him off.

So the other girl is also named Virginia, because of course she is, and it turns out she is trying to go to Seattle to marry a man she’s never met for the money. Apparently, her father arranged the marriage just prior to his death, and she….has to go. Again, while she complains about how she wants to wait and get to know him, it’s never explained why she has to do it in such a hurry, especially since her father is now dead and presumably wouldn’t complain. Anyway, their genius plan is to switch places so that in Seattle, Virginia can see what her new husband is like, and Ginny can pose as her friend come to be her bridesmaid. When Virginia points out the obvious flaw in this plan (namely, that eventually the correct girl will have to marry the mysterious unknown), Ginny handwaves it away with “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Nice, please play with the problems of strangers you have known ten minutes.

Anyway, if you have ever consumed Western media before, I’m sure you can see where this is going. It turns out that the mysterious fiancé Nicholas Bennett is actually on the train himself, and he is incredibly gorgeous. Ginny seizes the opportunity, introduces herself as his fiancée, and introduces the other Virginia using her own name. Ginny complains in her mind about how he is clearly boring, prim, and proper, despite having known him for approximately eight hours, and then the train gets stuck on account of all the snow they’re having.

Virginia is no dummy, and she figures out right away that Ginny is totally taken by Nicholas, and exclaims that this was a terrible idea and she should have never let Ginny talk her into this—to which Ginny responds by saying that she didn’t talk her into it at all! She had a free choice! GOD, Ginny is a terrible character. She is soiling the good name of Ginnys in fiction everywhere. They argue, and Ginny promises that everything will work out for Virginia, and they’ll figure it out together. It turns out Virginia’s father was physically and mentally abusive, and she’s deeply afraid that the man he chose for her will be the same way—hence wanting to get to know him.

It turns out that Nicholas in fact works for the railroad in some vague capacity, but there’s nothing for them to do other than sit and wait there for days while the train is stuck. Some of the men break out their fiddles in “A dance for the sweethearts!” because everyone on this train is obsessed with this stupid fake engagement. I suppose they have nothing else to interest themselves with. So Ginny and Nicholas dance in the middle of the train car, and there’s a lot of very awful purple prose about the “passion” and the “fire in his eyes.” “In that moment, Ginny knew she wanted to watch it burn forever. To spend her life heated by its warmth, guided by its light.” This is atrocious. Also, she has known him for ONE DAY. And everyone keeps saying “I’ve never seen two people so much in love!” except, of course, for Virginia, who is pissed off about this turn of events.

They manage to move a little bit, then there is a solid three pages where the plot just stops absolutely dead and we learn about clearing snow from railroad tracks in 1910 and the geography of the Cascades. I swear.

Apparently there was an avalanche further up the line, stalling them for even longer, and Ginny and Nicholas make this into a moment to confess their love for one another. Nicholas’s eyes go on burning a bit more, and it turns out that Virginia heard everything, and storms off. The train continues to be stuck a few more days, and the men almost start rioting when Nicholas points out that there’s no point, they’re trapped. Ginny begins to worry that she’s going to die there somehow. This is clearly intended to be worrying, but frankly, I hate Ginny and hope she does die.

The next day, Ginny and Virginia have a fight where Virginia accuses Ginny of stealing Nicholas away from her and doing it all on purpose and lying to Nicholas. Which, in fairness, is all 100% true. She tells Ginny she’ll give her until the next morning to tell her the absolute truth, or she’ll do it herself. That night, Ginny steals away in her nightgown to Nicholas’s bunk, and they sleep together!!! For real!!! Ginny is kind of a terrible person!!!!!!!!

The next morning, Virginia confronts her like, duh, I know you were in his bunk last night as I am not a total moron, and tells her that she can figure out she’s made it so that Nicholas has to choose her (Ginny) regardless, now that he’s ruined her. Nicholas walks in at this juncture, the secret is spilled, and Nicholas is violently angry and vows that he’ll just marry Virginia instead the way they were supposed to, so there. But apparently, the real reason he got on the train was to tell Virginia he couldn’t marry her anyway, because the arrangement their fathers made was to settle a bet and he believes marriage should be about love and honour and stuff. (As did many men in 1910, of course.) Nicholas tells Ginny to screw off, unless she is pregnant, in which case screw off but he will provide for her as a gentleman.

That very night, there is a terrible avalanche. Ginny is in her bed at the time and goes tumbling down the mountain and comes to buried in a snowbank with an air pocket, and is discovered just in the nick of time by a rescue crew. She suffers a terrible fever, but obviously makes a full recovery, and Nicholas spent an entire week sitting by her bedside. Virginia, obviously, dies in the avalanche, because she was clearly just standing in the way of Their Love. Mysteriously, Ginny’s stepbrother Stephen shows up somehow, believing that Ginny was killed in the avalanche and wanting her jewelry back. Nicholas tells her that “his fiancée” cannot possibly see visitors, and shoves him off.

So, Nicholas is not sure he wants to marry Ginny after all of this folderol and drama and stuff, and comes up with this genius plan: Ginny will stay there and recover, and he will continue to Seattle, and when she’s better she’ll wire him in Seattle, and if he comes to meet her at the train, they’ll live happily ever after, and if he doesn’t, then she knows. Seriously. That’s his plan. What the fuck.

So Ginny spends a few weeks recovering, goes to Seattle, and Nicholas is there to meet her and they live happily ever after. The (shitty) end.

Rating: F. What a mess of a book. Ginny is a horrible person who takes advantage of other people and doesn’t realize that it’s wrong. Virginia is killed off very conveniently, and Nicholas is apparently entranced by a woman who’s spent the past week or so lying to him. What the hell. Not only that, but this is a poorly-written piece of dreck that will frequently pause just to inform us all about the process of shoveling out a railroad track. This is atrocious. I regret the money I spent on it. Awful.

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