Three’s A Crowd By Marie McSwigan

Zip again. The name was short and sharp like a clasp knife. Just thinking about it drove it home in her heart.


I have a bunch of these Scholastic titles from the 1950s, but I’ve been hesitant to get into them since my experience in the obtuse word-bog of James L. Summers’ Prom Trouble two years ago.

Still, that had to be a fluke, right? Let’s see why this young man is bedeviled by giant heads!

The Plot: The story opens at the twentieth birthday party of the Faraday twins, ladylike Janet and laconic Johanna (called Joby). The twins are doted upon by their parents, and their mother looks on with pride as the twins greet their guests:

“How beautiful are my daughters,” Mrs. Faraday thought as she saw Joby’s shoulders gold almost against the white of her slip and the deep brown of her hair for although it was only May she was already wearing the sun’s award to a devotee.

OH GOD, IT IS PROM TROUBLE ALL OVER AGAIN! Was Scholastic paying their authors by the word? Is there ANY reason why Ms. McSwigan couldn’t have just said “Joby had brown hair and a suntan?” I’m only on page 2… is it too late to back out? Yes? Ok, onward.

The main thing about the twins’ birthday party is that they are introduced to the young man who has escorted one of their friends:

Clare Weeks, trim in oxblood chambray, was leaning against the spiral at the end of the stair rail to look up at a tall, well-featured man whose good looks were spoiled somewhat by the brazenness of his crew haircut.

Ladies and gentlemen, Zip Harmon.

Zip is six years older than the twins and the rest of the Junior class at Unnamed Central Pennsylvania University, because he’s has recently returned from a stint in the Air Force, where he earned his nickname for his eagerness to bomb Berlin into the ground.

(It should be noted that this makes the timeframe slightly confusing: the reference would seem to indicate that Zip is a World War II veteran, but several of the twins’ classmates are drafted and seem to be headed to Korea and West Germany, so Zip’s service doesn’t quite jive with the 1953 copyright date)

Joby immediately takes to Zip, despite the fact that he finds the very concept of twins annoying:

“Don’t they ever quarrel? Are they always staunch and true like the Navy?” Zip asked.

“There they go. Putting their heads together. Whispering. I saw them do that earlier tonight. They just shut out everyone else in the world.

His look was one of jealousy, she knew.

Despite the fact that he’s all ugh, twins Joby still manages to secure a double-date with Zip and one of his college buddies for Janet, during which Zip educates her all about the oil business, which he hopes to advance in from his current position of working at a gas station.

Joby is thrilled with the way things are going:

What a wing-ding of a thing the night had been! What a wooper-dooper time they had!

His manners were flawless and his conversation was good. He “threw a smart dart” but when he was serious he had something to say. His looks, undeniably, were admirable. Should he let his hair grow he’d be even more handsome. His convertible was new and ran smoothly on the best oil his company sold; oil, he said, that backed its advertising with performance.

Let me translate: Zip talk good. Zip look good. Zip car good. Wing-ding, wooper-dooper, etc.

Joby has set her cap for Zip, quickly assessing that he is Marriage Material:

He was vulnerable because he was earning and would earn more, and thus he was ticketed as marriageable. Moreover, his family was socially approved. He wanted a wife and it made him doubly vulnerable.

To Joby Faraday he was defenseless.

The complications ensue when the twins’ sorority has their annual Creamed Chicken Social at the country club; Joby, naturally, will be escorted by Zip. But what about her more retiring twin? Janet is has been moping because they have always done things TOGETHER, including dating, and now that Joby has started going out singly with Zip, Janet doesn’t even see the point of GOING to the Creamed Chicken Social! She is finally persuaded by her mother to ask boy-next-door Johnny Heid :

Mrs. Faraday approved of Johnny.

“He’s the nicest boy who comes to the house. At the party he was invaluable. He cut the ham in ribbon-thin slices.”

Well, if there is one thing that I look for in a man, it is that he can slice a good ham!

But the tide turns for Joby after the sorority dinner: Zip doesn’t call for her for several weeks, so she accepts a date with another boy. When he does call, Joby jokingly suggests that he double with Janet and he calls her bluff by accepting.

They double again (this time Janet with Johnny) for Unnamed University’s big costume ball (they go as “Alpinists”, with Johnny’s Saint Bernard in tow). Joby finally puts it all together afterward when she walks in on Janet and Zip sucking face, and Zip is pretty inconsiderate about the whole thing:

“Drop dead twice. Drop dead in sections.” Zip let go of Janet’s wrist and took her hand. To see the two of them allied against her was more than Joby could stand.

“Janet, I’ll slap your face.” She hardly knew what she was saying.

“You’ll do nothing of the kind. Get out of here. Janet and I are busy.” He glowered.

“She’s an underhanded little sneak.”

“She’s nothing of the kind. Go. Before I carry you out.” He turned masterful.

“In my own house! I like that! She’s underhanded and so are you!”

That is some Sweet Valley High-level twin-drama, there. Also: SLANG!

This book covers a lot of ground, taking place over a two-year period, which includes the twins reconciling enough that they travel together to work at a dress shop in Atlantic City over the summer, where Joby discovers that she has A Thing for lifeguards; the twins’ senior year of college and Janet and Zip’s engagement and eventual wedding and honeymoon.

After Janet’s wedding Joby finds herself at loose ends: she no longer has college to return to in the fall, and she doesn’t find the idea of taking a job without Janet to hold any appeal.

It doesn’t help that when Joby goes to visit her newlywed sister in her new apartment that she seems to still be carrying a torch for Zip, and she and Janet come up with a bizarre solution to this conundrum:

“I guess we’d better call him ‘our husband’ if you can’t remember about him.”

“If you’re so interested in ‘our husband’, will you pick the strawberries so he can have dessert?”

Um, weird.

Finally, still mooning around the family home, Joby’s parents suggest that she accompany her Aunt Bess to Martha’s Vineyard.

Joby enjoys spending the summer with her favorite aunt, and eventually starts passing the time with Arthur, the local lifeguard. She finds him good company, despite the fact that he never shuts up about his man-crush on Oliver Wendell Holmes.

However, she deflects Aunt Bess’s suggestions that Arthur might be marriage material (he’s at Harvard Law), and turns down his invitation to come to Boston for Thanksgiving.

She thought of “our husband” the night she and Janet had prepared dinner. A husband should be someone like Zip. The wryness of the thought twisted her heart.

“This Arthur seems to be a remarkable person.”

“He is. There’s no question that Arthur’s a real gone guy, a mellow fellow.”

Despite the fact that Arthur could surely show a girl a good wooper-dooper of a wing-ding, Joby decides

Down in her heart was the certainty that whatever direction her path took it was not to be traveled with Arthur.

On the flight home, Joby sees a magazine ad for Fashion Merchandising courses at Unnamed University and decides to do that, even though Zip makes fun of her for wanting to become “a big department store executive”, and Joby is finally all like “Shut up Zip, you are not that great.”

Sign It Was Written in 1953 Department: “Al Barnacle thought he was another Bing Crosby and spoke in the lofty way he thought Crosby might.”

Incomprehensible Metaphor Department:

“Don’t you know about a philopena? When I was a boy if two of us found twin almond kernels we’d each eat one. Then if one of us would give the other some object he’d say ‘philopena’ a collect a forfeit. The definition of philopena is “friendly forfeit’, although some dictionaries give it as ‘well beloved.’ To us, however, it always meant the twin kernels.”

I literally have no idea what Zip’s father is talking about.

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4 Responses to Three’s A Crowd By Marie McSwigan

  1. I cannot believe this book exists. WTF is going on in this book? It is creepy.

  2. Pingback: Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Rebecca By Daphne du Maurier | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  3. Pingback: High Trail By Vivian Breck | Lost Classics of Teen Lit: 1939-1989

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