Captain Cupid Calls the Shots
I wanted to read Captain Cupid Calls the Shots by Elisabeth Fairchild because I was amused by the title. I quickly learned that the book, though it is quirky and more than a little odd, is not a comedy. A deep sense of melancholy pervades this love story between two wounded souls.
Alexander Shelbourne was a captain in the army, recently returned to England. He is deeply troubled by the deeds he committed in the war against Napoleon’s forces. Shell-shocked and depressed, he visits the home of his comrade, Valentine, where he meets lovely Penny Foster, the local Fallen Woman. Penny’s mother is rumored to have run away with the gypsies, and Penny is raising a child that everyone assumes is her bastard. Val drunkenly boasts that she spread her legs for him before he went to war. In spite of all this, Alexander is attracted to her.
The relationship between the two progresses in strange little fits and starts. They have conversations in which all sorts of important things remain unsaid or barely-alluded to. Alexander goes away, then comes back again. Penny’s worst fear comes true; she copes silently. Rain falls. The author has a bad habit of breaking off conversations halfway through, and then starting a new chapter some undisclosed period of time later.
Fairchild does a very good job of portraying Alexander as a man whose spirit was scarred by war, and who finds healing in helping those he loves. I liked him, and I enjoyed his struggle with guilt and regret, which he manage with humor and tolerance. Penny is, of course, not nearly as bad as people think she is. I found her difficult to like and to understand. She has been a silently-suffering victim since she was a small child, and doesn’t seem to have any intention of stopping now.
This book features lots of little details that I can only describe as “quirky.” For instance, Fairchild has made Penny obsessed with a historical figure named Lady Anne, whom Penny calls upon, like a patron saint, almost every page that’s in her point of view: “Lady Anne, Lady Anne!” I don’t know why Fairchild does this – it’s odd. She explains who Lady Anne is and why she’s so important to Penny, but I just couldn’t get used to the way Penny constantly calls upon her. Also, it’s strange the way there are so many references to various archers, starting with the book’s incongruous title. Alexander is known as Cupid, not because he’s a ladies man, but because as a sniper he always shot his victims through the heart. Then there’s Cupid’s friend Valentine, Penny’s pony Archer, and her dog Artemis (Apollo’s sister and Goddess of the Hunt – and Moon).
This quirkiness is sort of Amanda Quick-like, except that it runs completely counter to the extremely sad tone of the book, which is jarring. Almost every page of Captain Cupid Calls the Shots is absolutely steeped in loss and regret, including the dedication page, which reads, “To all those whose lives have been clouded by mistaken assumptions.” Geez. Other issues that come up in this book include alcoholism, the sickness and death of small children, and several different references to suicide.
I can’t reveal any spoilers, but the only conflict that really separates Penny and Alexander involves Val and the child that Penny is raising. Although Val is a very interesting character who succeeds in stealing every scene he’s in, the plot comes across as contrived and artificial. The difference in their social classes is not a conflict between them, although it should have been, and unless I missed it, we never learn how Penny and Alexander plan to make a living. Alexander is the younger son of a nobleman and he has no money; I believe it is implied that he will herd sheep with Penny’s father. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that.
Fairchild has some talent for characterization: both Val and Alexander come alive in this book, and I was very interested in both of them. But the way she chops her chapters up into short, stuttering sections constantly interrupted the story for me, and the pervasive sadness lingered after the happily-ever-after.