Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers (1974)

My 1980 well-worn copy.  $1.52!
A Billion for Boris is one of my precious books. It's a paperback, the cover is about to fall off, and it's really  ratty.  The book was originally published in 1974; my "Starbooks" edition (whatever that publishing company was - I can't find anything out about them online, and they must be long gone) was published in 1980.  So probably between 1980 - 1982.   I don't know where I got the book - let's say off a spinning rack at K-Mart (there was no Walmart back then).  It was one of my favorite books, and while my love of this book has lessened slightly over the years, it's still pretty good.

A perfect book it's not.  The plot meanders around itself, and seems very episodic.  But then, so does Freaky Friday.  

It's pleasantly aware of itself (the end, with it's namedropping, sinks the meta.

It's most definitely another "New York City" book, but I'm not sure Mary Rodgers could write another kind of book.

It's stuck in time too - the songs ("Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme"), the television set itself, the relationship between Bart Bacon and Annabel (well, I think 14 year old girls are still trying to look 18 to snag 20something guys, but I don't think a book would use it as a plot point unless it turned out badly), the drinking of champagne, a mother who leaves her son behind when she gallivants off to California for a week or so.    Oh and the gambling!  Let's not forget the gambling.  Katniss and her kind may kill one another in a violent bloodbath, but I think they are babies compared to the teenagers in A Billion for Boris.   Annabel and Boris (and Virginia) all seem so suave and mature - they did to me then, and they continue to seem that way today.  This year they are all the main characters in A Billion for Boris - next year,  Company.  14 and 15 year olds may have the world at their fingertips (read:  lots of porn on the internet) but those teenagers of the seventies were Mature.

I suppose this would have been young adult - although I was reading it when I was ten and eleven.  It has a snarky humor.  Annabel's voice, as I think about it, has shades of gay man to it.  Again, knowing the author, that makes sense.


A Billion for BorisA Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A childhood favorite, dug out of storage and re-visited - did not disappoint.  So what if it's not a perfect book (the plot meanders a bit).  I'm not sure if modern kids would understand or care about the book, but A Billion for Boris (along with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) introduced me to New York City (from a teenager of the 1970s viewpoint, at least); gave me the beginning of an appreciation for the gay voice (Annabel, on several occasions, sounds more like a gay man than a 13 year old girl, and knowing Mary Rodgers background, that should come as no surprise), and literary introduction to the concept of meta (an adult understanding of the name dropping in the last pages sealed that 30 years later).  Those teens of the early 1970s were Mature too, weren't they?  Annabel and Boris drink champagne and gamble.  Boris calls his mother by her first name (so 70s - didn't Phyllis's daughter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show do the same thing?).  Fourteen year old Annabel claims to be dating a newspaper reporter in his twenties; he eventually (and let's face, humorously) ends up with her so called best friend Virginia. It's like they are starring in A Billion for Boris on day, and tomorrow it's  Company: A Musical Comedy.  Katniss from The Hunger Games may end up in a violent bloodbath, but I'm not sure the literary teens of YA-dom today would last long in the super hip world of Mary Rodger's 1970s New York City, where wit is the ultimate weapon. I'm not suggesting any child today should read this book.  But 40somethings wanting a walk down memory lane might have a fun hour.


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