TO MAKE TWO LADIES LIVELY —
Take a Small Pitcher with Well-Rounded Interior
Put in It Nine Cubes of Ice
Add Four Cocktail Glasses of Gin
Add Two Cocktail Glasses of Noilly Prat Vermouth
Stir Briskly Sixty Revolutions with a Long-Handled Spoon– (The Only Method Which Doesn’t Bruise the Gin)
Pour into Cocktail Glasses
Add Twist of Lemon Peel so Lemon Oil Is Sprayed into the Liquid
Repeat until Pitcher is Empty
-From So Red the Nose
After a month of searching, I have come to the conclusion that the original Noilly Prat, as one would drink in 1931, cannot be bought in the United States of America. Any liquor stores who stock it are keeping that little secret to themselves.
But, you may ask, if that’s the case, what’s in that picture at the top of this page? That, my friends, is a lie. After I gave up my search, I ended up making the The Lively Lady not with Noilly Prat Original Dry, but with Noilly Prat Extra Dry. I’ll understand if you have to close this tab in disgust.
Actually, it seems that the martini drinkers themselves upped demand for Extra instead of Original in the U.S. market. And yes, there are significant differences between the two, as I tried to explain many times to liquor store clerks in fruitless attempts to get my money back.
But, as a loyal reader of this blog, you may have an additional protest: haven’t I already reviewed a cocktail with Noilly Prat? And used Noilly Prat Rouge? Why yes, but that was back in the days when I apparently did not do basic research, or a quick trip to the Noilly Prat Wikipedia page would have told me that this particular brand of vermouth only existed in one form until the 1970’s. Oh, how naive I was all those many five months ago.
So how is this slightly modified drink? It’s… another martini. Good, just not what I started this project for. Actually The Lively Lady is almost exactly the same as The Man without Nerves, with one key difference: The Lively Lady is stirred, not shaken. And sorry gin nerds, but I have to side with Mr. Bond in that debate. I’m too much a fan of bubbles.
Now your Jeddy Rucker fights for the good name of an American hero because he can bear no tarnish put upon a national brightness; and that spirit is everywhere among us, because we’ve found out that we’re America. Not many men know better than you what suffering the war has brought, Captian Nason; but history must say it has done a great task, and that Dartmoor was worth the price. We’re a nation at last.
-From The Lively Lady
Actually, this little footnote of history makes a surprisingly interesting premise. The main character of 1931’s Lively Lady is “Cap’n” Richard Nason, a sailor from author Kenneth Roberts’ real-life hometown of Arundel, Maine. When the war first breaks out, Captain Dick’s only interest is in how it will affect his next shipment, but he quickly finds his patriotic side after an ugly run-in with some British sailors. So he becomes a privateer, which was basically a government-endorsed pirate. And they were apparently actually around during this period of American history.
So that sounds like a solid set-up for an adventure story, right? Everybody loves pirates and a little morally-justified ship burning. It should be an action-packed romp, maybe not great literature, but fun, right?
Well, let me preface this review by saying that my opinions on The Lively Lady are by no means shared by the majority of its other readers. The admittedly small collection of reviews for this book on Amazon and Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive. So maybe there’s something about this story I just don’t “get.”
Actually I know exactly what I don’t get: 19th century naval-speak. Tell me if this sentence means anything to you: “You got to turn quick — turn her on her heel. All right: You clap your helm a-lee, haul up your mainsail, brail up your mizzen and mizzen staysail, square the after yards, let go the fore tack, sheet, bowlines and lee braces.” Did one word in that entire sentence hold meaning for you? If so, I salute you as the superior literary sailor. If not, have fun wading through about 50 percent of the words in this book.
Leaving the language aside, The Lively Lady actually is just as fast-paced as you could hope for in an adventure story. Hardly two pages go by without a bar fight, ship battle, prison break, or other such outburst of violence. Though to be honest, I’m not so crazy about prose action scenes in general– they usually go on a little long and I find them hard to visualize. It’s one of the reasons I prefer the Lord of the Rings movies to the books (please don’t hurt me).
Nevertheless, The Lively Lady does have some atmospheric and tense moments: such as when the eponymous ship’s nemesis, the Gorgon, is described as “a big black dog showing white teeth at us, in a rage at having dinner snatched from her jaws.” In accordance with this description, one of the sailors challenges back, “Growl, you black bitch!”
Speaking of unfortunate implications, the book also has some lovely drive-by racism during the Dartmoor Prison scenes, in the form of a minstrelsy comic relief character called — wait for it — King Dick. His portrayal is almost more offensive because it believes it’s an affectionate parody. At least hateful racism knows what it is.
But the most frustrating thing about this story is that it never goes anywhere, or, rather, it goes everywhere: Maine, Spain, England, and aboard at least five different vessels in less than 300 pages. Which might be fine if there was a better sense of what was stringing all these separate plot threads together (besides HISTORY! that is). The revenge plot is pretty contrived and forgotten for most of the story. A patriotism theme is just barely shoehorned in at the beginning and end. The only actually constant driving force throughout all the random action scenes is Dick’s love for the thinly-characterized Emily Ransom.
Lady Ransom has got to have one of the mostly unintentionally obnoxious female characterizations in the history of fiction. The first time she meets the good captain, she literally stomps her foot because he — a total stranger at this point — won’t give her the shawl he’s carrying. And we the readers are supposed to see her as feisty and charming. BARF! Seriously, I was so dreading the return of this character after the first chapter, but she gets a lot better after that, mainly because she gets a lot sadder, as her current husband behaves like a real king dick.
Forgotten classic or better left in the past?
So after 600 words of whining, you probably think I hate this book, but that’s not really the case. It definitely has its emotional moments and well-written scenes, and the background info on the War of 1812 was way more interesting than I would ever have guessed. Roberts’ prolific literary career focused exclusively on historical fiction, and by all accounts his books are well-researched.
So I give The Lively Lady a hearty, “meh.” Maybe a “meh”- plus. If you like historical adventure stories, you shouldn’t necessarily take my word for it, but I know for myself, I’ll probably be giving his other novels a skip.
The Lively Lady is available on Amazon in paperback and kindle editions. Fair warning: The kindle version has a ton of annoying OCR errors.
Special thanks to my BFF Jessica for her help with this post. Only a true friend answers the phone in the middle of a week night. And only a true history teacher doesn’t hang up when the next words are: “What can you tell me about trade embargoes during the War of 1812?”
Also, I’ve heard the term “mizzen mast” a hundred times on that Bob’s Burgers episode and it never occurred to me that it was a real thing until I read this book. So that’s something in its favor.
Next time: Our first Australian author. Nifty! Only two more countries and I’ll have anglophone bingo.