Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: WINDOW ON THE SQUARE (1962) by Phyllis Whitney


Friday's Forgotten Books is a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at PATTINASE. Check out today's other participants and their forgotten book choices at this link.

Along with Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels (Elizabeth Peters), Phyllis Whitney was one of the authors who, in the 60's and 70's, showed just how good a gothic novel could actually be. Derided by some and read by millions - mostly women - a good gothic was the emotional equivalent of today's romantic suspense stories which, to my mind, are often much less fun. I always liked the 'trimmings' that came with the gothic: especially the broody, jewel-toned covers showing a woman running from the dark recesses of a castle or mansion which was usually (but not always) perched on a windswept cliff. I liked the dark, brooding heroes with secrets to hide - lots of 'brooding' going on in these books. I liked the 'governess aspect' which was the mainstay of many of the stories ala Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE - the mother of all gothics.

Some of these books are still fun to read today if you're in the mood for a good romantic suspense story but don't want to deal with blood splatter and ten page descriptions of sex. I mean, sometimes that just gets fatiguing.

A favorite from that time was/is WINDOW ON THE SQUARE by Phyllis Whitney. This book is a little out of the ordinary because its setting was not a windswept country estate but a darkly luxurious brownstone in downtown Manhattan of the 1870's. When Megan Kincaid enters this house of secrets, she has no idea of the danger that is waiting for her. Forced by circumstance to earn a living, the well-bred Megan thinks she's being hired as a seamstress but in reality, the head of the house, the dark and 'brooding' Brandon Reid, wants her to devote herself to the care of his very troubled nephew, Jeremy. The boy is the son of the late Dwight Reid once the District Attorney and a rising political star. It is the shocking death of Brandon's younger brother which continues to haunt the occupants of the brownstone including the sad and beautiful Leslie Reid, Brandon's wife and widow of Dwight. Megan soon learns that the 'truth' the adults in the house are all tip-toeing around is their belief that Jeremy - who has a ghoulish fascination with guns - was responsible for his father's death.

This is actually one of the darker 'gothics' primarily because the crime and the secrets involved are vile and the boy at the heart of the story is in grave psychological danger. There is also a heavy 'claustrophobic' aspect to the novel which adds to the suspense. But as Megan and Brandon grow closer, you can be sure that somehow, the eventual truth will save the day.

A terrific book.

14 comments:

  1. Oh, Yvette! This is such a coincidence! I am in the process of writing a very looong post for my blog that just happens to mention a favorite oldie by Phyllis Whitney! I gobbled up all of her books, along with Victoria Holt, Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, and so many more! I thought Whitney was an excellent writer, and Window on the Square was one of my favorites along with The Trembling Hills, Thunder Heights, and The Quicksilver Pool.

    Thanks for the fun blast from the past. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Joanne: Even MORE of a coincidence, BV Lawson at her bloc, IN REFERENCE TO MURDER wrote a post today about Mary Stewart. Must be something in the water. HAHA!! Isn't it funny how an idea will just get into the ether and make its way around? I didn't even know I was going to write about Whitney until this morning. Go figure.

    I've read all the Whitney titles you mention, Joanne, but damn if I can remember them. For some reason, the one I remember most is WINDOW ON THE SQUARE. Probably because I read it several times over the years.

    Can't wait to read your post! Thanks for dropping by.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Phyllis Whitney has always been one of my favorite gothic writers. And WINDOW ON THE SQUARE might be her best book.

    ReplyDelete
  4. George: Thanks for dropping by. Yes, I think I agree with you. Certainly it's the book I most remember her by. Though I'd read almost all of her books years ago, the one I always remember is WINDOW ON THE SQuARE.

    ReplyDelete
  5. When I scrolled through my GR, I thought: Phyllis Whitney, I FORGOT about her. Then I saw the title of your post. Yes, I am a dork. But wow, I used to love reading Phyllis Whitney. I have a boxed set around here somewhere. Thanks so much for the reminder!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow! Mary Stewart AND Phyllis Whitney on the same Friday. I left a comment on BV's blog about Mary Stewart (who I always preferred). I read more Whitney than Stewart and only remember SPINDRIFT. Whitney's books all sort of blur together for me. I thought all of her books were contemporary Gothics. Huh. Surprise, surprise. I may have to hunt down this period piece. You certainlypiqued my interest for further reading.

    ReplyDelete
  7. picky girl: You're welcome. I'm a dork too and PROUD of it! Ha! I read all the gothic writers once upon a time. I loved Whitney and Mary Stewart best, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  8. John: And I heard from another blogger who's planning a long post on Stewart. I said: must be something in the water. :)

    I read your comment, John. On the whole I'd say that Stewart was probably the better all around writer, but Whitney wrote some goodies too.

    I love WINDOW ON THE SQUARE and remember it better than most. It's relatively easy to get a copy even now.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am sure I read this along with Mary Stewart's books years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  10. You probably did, Patti. I think we all did. :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have heard of this author before but I've never read any of her books. I think I'm going to have to check it out. This one sounds really good.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I read all of those books, too, back in the 60s and 70s and don't remember anything about any of them except that I loved them! It's hard to beat the atmosphere in those books. Maybe it's time for a re-read.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ryan: This is one of her best books. If you've never read her before, this is the one to get you started. She was prolific, so there's plenty by Whitney for you to read. You'll probably get addicted. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Joan: I'm in the same boat. Really the only one I remember is this one (and only because I read it more than once). I know I read them all, but they're gone into the mists of time. Maybe I'll join you in a 'gothic' reread. ;)

    ReplyDelete

Your comment will appear after I take a look.