Oh Zachary Grey, Zachary Grey, why are you such a jerk?
I think I am justified when I say that An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L’Engle is just as much a book about Zachary Grey (the brilliant, lazy, and deeply unhappy doomed boy who repeatedly screws over L’Engle’s good-hearted, brave, and forgiving heroines) as it is about Polly O’Keefe (eldest daughter of Calvin O’Keefe and Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time fame).
Polly last saw Zachary Grey in A House Like a Lotus where he was generally charming and revealed some (from what I remember) relatively minor character flaws. But readers last saw him in A Ring of Endless Light, where he starts the book by selfishly putting another person’s life at risk, and ends it by betraying Vicky Austin in her moment of need. If I recall correctly, Zachary undergoes a life-changing event in A Ring of Endless Light and promises Vicky that he will reform, or something similar.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he shows up in An Acceptable Time, where he has the nerve to tell Polly about the events in A Ring of Endless Light (making himself sound like a sad sorry soul), only to then betray Polly, experience a life-changing event and promise to reform. Again. All I can say is: he obviously cannot be reformed and is just going to prance off into the fictional ether to betray more strong women who are going to forgive him (against their better judgment but according to their fine natures) so that he can promise to reform and prance off into the fictional ether…you get the picture. Point being, I’ve lost patience with him, which was not – I think – L’Engle’s intention.
In An Acceptable Time, Polly O’Keefe has moved temporarily to her grandparent’s country home (also the scene of A Wrinkle in Time and company, and therefore steeped in magic) to recover from the combined effects of the death of a friend and just plain growing up. Her grandparents have taken up the task of teaching her and, as the book begins, readers have the impression that she is with them not only to study but also to heal.
Most teens would be put out by having to live in the countryside with only the grandparents and their friends, Dr. Louise Colubra (of “Louise the Larger” fame) and Bishop Nason Colubra, for company. Not Polly. She relishes the time as an only child, and the education and edifying conversations about life, the universe, and everything. And, soon enough, Polly finds that she desperately needs the expertise of the people around her: her grandfather’s experience with tessering, Bishop Colubra’s knowledge of local prehistory, even her grandmother’s biological studies and Dr. Louise’s medical background come in handy before the book is over…because Polly and Bishop Colubra are caught in a prehistorical time “spiral”, which sends them back a few thousand years at seemingly random intervals and for no apparent reason, to visit with the People of the Wind.
[Spoilers ahead!] Despite precautions, Polly and the Bishop spend increasing amounts of time in the past, and then suddenly are stranded there with – of all people – Zachary Grey. We all know this is going to end badly, and it does. Zachary and his weak heart (both figuratively and literally) drive the rest of the plot.
Under the belief that the warlike People Across the Lake can cure his heart condition, Zachary helps them to kidnap Polly so that she, a “goddess”, can bring rain. The chief of the People Across the Lake makes it clear that Polly is probably going to be sacrificed. Polly initially chooses to believe that Zachary does not know this but, as the book goes on, it becomes apparent that Zachary’s suspension of belief is mostly his own darned fault. In the end, with the help of the People of the Wind, Bishop Colubra, Louise the Larger, and clever use of the contents of her anorak pocket, Polly manages to escape, return, get Zachary, and forge a peace between the People of the Wind and the People Across the Lake. The three interlopers then return to their own time where Polly makes no bones about saying goodbye to Zachary for good…after forgiving him.
Yup that’s about it.
Oh! Except that there is kind of a love story. But, frankly, it didn’t hold my attention. One of the warriors of the People of the Wind falls for Polly and there’s a lot of talk about “the line between Polly and Tav”, and how it is “getting stronger”. Just strong enough for Polly to care that she is leaving Tav in the past, and so on. You know what? I don’t buy it. L’Engle has written a lot of adventure stories with people falling for each other, and this one just isn’t believable to me. In my (grown up? jaded?) view, Tav doesn’t really do or say anything in particular to Polly to justify her love (isn’t that a song?). Their pseudo-relationship stands in stark contrast to other L’Engle books (Many Waters, A Wrinkle in Time, A House Like a Lotus, And Both Were Young, Camilla, to name a few). Or maybe it’s just that *I* didn’t fall in love with Tav (never liked the dumb jock type…give me a druid over a warrior any day), so why on earth would Polly?
Final words? It’s a L’Engle book, so it’s well written and interesting. But it’s not her best book. I found it slightly disappointing after her other time travel books (Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters), love stories (listed above), adventure stories (nearly all of her books!) and the other Murry/O’Keefe books (too many to name here). It’s worth reading to complete the set, but that’s the best I can say.
Reading Ages: Middle school and up.
Why did I change the title format? I really wanted to write that line, and couldn’t find a good place to put it in the blog post.
Pop Quiz: (1) Vicky Austin or Polly O’Keefe? (2) Polly O’Keefe or Meg Murry?