Bingo 21 (Back to School)
I remember in elementary school being mightily impressed by From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, but have no memory of what it was I liked or why I’d had to read the book in the first place. I suspect it was likely for a book report or reading hours. I kind of remember now upon a re-read over two decades later, in spite of some reactions to characters and situations that are likely the grown-up in me, at least grown-up in the sense I’m old enough to be the nameless mother of the two run-aways.
I think the thing I appreciated the most was the suspense of how long could Claudia and Jaime get away with hiding out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (yes, the one in NYC), the historical information and the mystery behind the angel. The basic plot if you don’t remember is that two elementary age kids decide to run away from home in the suburbs and live in the urban museum. Even towards the end when a grown up asks why Claudia had the idea in the first place, she doesn’t really have much of an answer beyond that her parents were annoying her. Grown-up me bristled a little at that. Grown-up me also had to stop from trying to overthink things like how dumb would security have had to have been, even if it was pre-video surveillance etc (the story is set in 1967 or so) to not notice 2 kids spending the night and a good bit of most days in the Museum. Grow-up me was also a little offended that Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler did not appear to have a first name; given how sassy independent she seems at age 81, why shouldn’t she have a public identity beyond her presumably dead husband.
What grown-up me did enjoy was the mystery of the Angel statue, was it really a lost legitimate Michelangelo, and the level of reality of what goes on inside a museum, at least during visiting hours. I’ve never been to the Met (bucket list item still in play), but thanks to an appendix in my edition, I am aware of which details are or were real to the time, and which were not. I also greatly appreciated the actual files and Mrs. Frankenweiler’s description and reasoning for having them. I do have to admit that I don’t entirely buy Claudia’s and Jamie’s archival work in response to the challenge given to them. That level of critical thinking seems a bit of stretch for a 17-18 year old, let along 12 and 9; maybe it’s the effect of 20+ years of the Internet but I have a hard time believing even a lot of college freshmen figuring that out.
I also faintly remembered some kind of twist right at the end, and I was surprised slightly when I got to it. It really shows something of the character of the narrator who is essentially Mrs. Frankenweiler the whole time; her brief comments to her lawyer got kind of irritating since they didn’t contribute a lot except for the set up and execution of that final little surprise concerning a familial (sort of) connection that Mrs. Frankenweiler seems to have known the whole time; I kind of wonder what Claudia and Jamie would have thought if they ever figured that out. 3.5 starts from grown-up me, and an early Christmas idea for my 9 year old niece. I am also now most certain I will never see either film version; that is unlikely to end well.