You Can’t Eat Orchids

Written by Nancy StarrWhy did I buy and read this book?  That is a question I have been asking myself a lot recently, especially this past week.

My collection tapers off drastically around 1935.  I have a small handful of romances from the later 1930s and collect into the early 1940s for career and collegiate books.  However, there is a noticeable difference in these later books, as cover art style noticeably changes sometime around the mid-1930s.  My collection doesn’t really focus on this transition as much as it does the late 1920s and early 1930s styles.  Also, different publishers appear in later 1930s romances, such as Phoenix Press, Gramercy Publishing Company, and Hillman Curl.  Some of the authors I collect stop writing around this time, or only wrote one or two obscure books to begin with, but others continue well into this era and beyond.  As these books begin transitioning into mid-century style, they lose me.  I still find them interesting, and still value their subtle social commentary, but as of December 2012, I have no intention of adding more recently published books to the collection.

You Can’t Eat Orchids became a collecting scope exception when I found it in person at a show in April 2012.  Somehow, the book being there, its affordable price, and a “sure, why not” moment came together as I decided to see what a love vs. money plot looked liked in 1937.  So You Can’t Eat Orchids by Nancy Starr, published by Hillman Curl “A Streamlined Romance,” joined the collection.

I found this book rather disappointing, especially in its front cover promise to be a love vs. money story.  The plot premise of a millionaire sending Betty, the protagonist, orchids while Betty is starving and out of work happens, but then the millionaire does not actually come into play for more than 150 pages.  Also, the millionaire’s identity changes, but I’ll get to that later.  The real love triangle is between Betty, a theatrical music composer named Don, and a charming jerk named Tony, but even this triangle is repetitive and poorly staged.  Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but I found most of this book’s “plot” to be unevenly paced, disorganized, and downright discombobulated.

On one page Betty and Don are discussing being starving artists in a very literal sense.  Then, less than five pages later and without any upward change in her circumstances, Betty always has bakery pastries on hand, just in case Tony might call.  She dates Tony, only to be passed over for the wealthy Stella Barnes but about thirty pages after she makes this dramatic discovery, Stella Barnes is introduced again as if for the first time.  Betty needs to be told who she is, and at first has no objections to Stella approaching Tony.

Towards the end of her first courtship with Tony, Betty laments to Don that her engagement to Tony might break off; this happens about twenty-five pages before Tony and Betty actually start discussing engagement.  Perhaps Tony and Betty’s first engagement is one of those things that are only brought up in passing as it vanishes?  This was also the case with Tony’s car.  It was repossessed, and that was the first mention of it.  Also, Betty lost her job in television, in passing, although that was introduced at great length, but we never find out why she lost the job.

And then, with only a hundred or so pages to go, the millionaire who sent the orchids appears.  But who is he?  Well, in the first chapter of the book the orchids are sent by Henry William Van Wyck, 3rd, a former beau from Betty’s hometown.  But we never meet Henry William Van Wyck, because by the time this plot thread has been picked up, Larry is the playboy millionaire who sent those flowers.  In chapter one, Larry was a friend of Don and Tony’s mentioned in passing who also lives in the same boarding house as Betty.  Huh?  I’m very confused.

Unless I’m missing a lot here, this book is plain old sloppy and poorly written.  All the oddness and distracting inconsistencies made this book muddled.  Just in case anyone cares, Betty ends up engaged to Don (again? whatever happened to that fake engagement plot?).

Maybe some of the other Hillman Curl romances are better?  They sound like they have fun plot lines, so maybe I will try again later with this publisher.  Besides, the back flap of this book’s dust jacket mentions a Hillman Curl book with a leap year plot line which I would enthusiastically add to my collection, if I can ever find it!

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other books published by Hillman Curl are available for purchase here.

This entry was posted in 1930s, Hillman Curl, Nancy Starr. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to You Can’t Eat Orchids

  1. Into each collection comes a periodic clunker. The good news is that you’re now that much closer to your next good bad book!

  2. Michael says:

    Perhaps you could nominate this title for the worst ‘golden age’ romance ever written. I believe there is a western by Ed Earl Repp that is generally considered the worse novel of that genre published. Looking forward to seeing if any other Hillman Curl titles are worth the read. I think their mysteries are widely collected.

  3. Pingback: Hotel Hostess | thegoodbadbook

  4. RichieG says:

    I am reading Shackled now by Bruce Clay, also a 1937 Hillman-Curl Streamlined Romance. I think the design of these books is that they are not particularly good– I am sure your back flap has the whole “easy to digest, not wordy” message, hence why it only took me like 45 minutes to read 50 pages haha. I am enjoying mine, since it is about Hollywood, but it is so not realistic whatsoever. I too prefer the early 30s book covers to the later, and the Shackled cover is quite similar to this, but it was cheap so oh well.

    • Mine says “Streamlined Romances as modern as tomorrow.” Shackled sounds like it could be good, or at least the right sort of bad. The Nancy Starr book is still my only Hillman Curl title. Maybe sometime that will change? My next blog post (if I can ever get around to it) is a 1936 title published by Hopkins. It’s a shorter, very plot driven novel, but is way more coherent than You Can’t Eat Orchids.

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