In My Wildest Dreams
Grade : C+

I volunteered to take a second look at In My Wildest Dreams when Robin asked the other AAR reviewers how we might feel about the Sabrina-style plot. I adore romances like Judith Ivory's Sleeping Beauty that re-imagine fairy tales, and saw similar potential in Sabrina's story. As a fan of both Christina Dodd and the original movie, I was intrigued to see how the concept actually played out. (However, if I had come upon the homage unprepared my flabber might have been ghasted; I missed some acknowledgement of the source on the cover or in a prefatory remark.) Unfortunately, I didn't find the homage to be entirely successful, and overall this is far from Christina Dodd's best work.

The first 60 or so pages of the book have a nearly-identical outline to Sabrina, but after that the story begins to go its own way. Garrick Throckmorton has hired Celeste Milford to be the governess for he and his brother's young daughters. Celeste, newly gleaming with Parisian polish, is determined to win the love of Ellery, Garrick's handsome younger brother, and Ellery, fearful of real-life responsibility, is willing to be won. Garrick steps in and decides to seduce Celeste away from Ellery, then pay her off and send her back to Paris. Meanwhile, Celeste learns of Garrick's career as a spymaster, and becomes enmeshed when she unmasks Garrick's secretary as a traitor.

While I like the idea of a Sabrina homage, I found the execution lacking. The movie is anything but realistic; its characters vastly underwritten. Nevertheless, I love it for its remarkably humane sensibilities and deftly daffy sense of humor that comes through in nearly every scene. It would be easy to be rid of Sabrina if the family was willing to be harshly unpleasant to her; they are not. Instead the hero genuinely thinks that his method of neutralizing Sabrina is the kindest option. It's a stupid plan, but there you go. As a good homage should, Dodd's remake addresses some of the problems of the original. Garrick's age is scaled way back; he's no longer old enough to be Celeste's father. Moreover, Dodd offers some new insight and background for several of the characters, most enjoyably younger brother Ellery and his bride-to-be. Unfortunately, some of the expansion is pretty dreadful, particularly a superfluous, cliched subplot involving Celeste's father. There are so many additional storylines, including Garrick's spying and the brothers' daughters, that the book has a distinctly overcrowded feel.

I didn't feel I knew or understood Celeste or Garrick any better than I already knew from the movie. Garrick, in particular, was a disappointment; very stodgy and mature, I never felt his haunted past. Worse is that the depth of his attraction to Celeste never comes through. In all, I might have liked the book better if Ellery and his fiancee Hyacinth were the main characters; flawed Ellery is more in keeping with the Governess Bride heroes, and Hyacinth is a more complex and sympathetic character than Celeste.

The problem with the homage is that it hews so closely to the movie that it's a constant distraction; I forever found myself comparing and judging the book by the movie's standards, even when the book stepped away from the original plotline. Though Robin and LLB have said they enjoyed the remake - I did not, and like the remake, this book utterly fails to capture the whimsical humor that was the original's greatest charm. At her best, a similar understated humor is Dodd's strongest suit - a line in That Scandalous Evening still cracks me up every time I reread it. The relative lack of humor leaves me wondering why Dodd went to such lengths to invite comparison. At another remove or two in specificity, the plot would be generic, and none of us would particularly be thinking of Sabrina at all.

The movie aside, this simply is not an especially good Christina Dodd book, particularly compared to the best of her most recent output. It is readable, and has its moments, but the overcrowding is a major problem. I enjoyed the complexity of the children's interactions, but was dismayed by how easily they were swept out of the picture when convenience demanded it. The spy plot might have been more interesting if it was less constricted by all the other subplots. I'm left with the feeling that this was an experiment that could have paid off very well by revealing more facets of characters' motivations, or using the familiar set-up but then revising it even further than the author did. I wouldn't mind seeing Christina Dodd attempt more homages; I granted DIK status to her spoof of the Gothic genre in Rules of Attraction. But I'd rather either see her dig in two-fisted and extract every layer of nuance from her source that she can, or leave it alone and write more stories that utilize her own unique humor and style.

Reviewed by Mary Novak
Grade : C+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : September 25, 2001

Publication Date: 01/2001

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Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Mary Novak

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