Rosemary Wells Susan Terris - Essay

Susan Terris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Not since Dorothy was whisked off to Oz have I encountered a Dorothy as impressionable and thoroughly sympathetic as the heroine of Rosemary Wells's "Leave Well Enough Alone." In this novel, set in 1956, Dorothy, almost 15, a policeman's daughter and student at the Sacred Heart School in Newburgh, N.Y., finds herself transported to Llewellyn, Pa. where, for the magnificent sum of $400, she is to spend the summer taking care of two beastly little girls.

At first blink, Maria and John Hoade's Llewellyn estate with its pastoral beauty and fabulous parties seems like an Emerald City to Dorothy Coughlin; but as the green glasses begin to slip down her nose she realizes that the place reeks of menace, mystery and lies. (p. 20)

As Dorothy pursues clue after clue in her search for truth and in a desire to gain personal recognition, she also begins to discover that the world is a very complex place with a gray area between right and wrong where even a person of conscience cannot easily cope. Despite the aura this serious issue gives to the novel, Mrs. Wells has not lost her touch for writing funny dialogue or her ability to develop believable characters. In fact, the Hoade girls' mother, Maria, is so pathetically real and zany—she wears her homemade sweater inside-out because she knitted the initials from the manual into it instead of her own—she sometimes threatens to steal the whole show from Dorothy.

All in all, this is a well-written book full of humor and suspense. It does, however, have the added plus of leaving the reader to wrestle with the question of whether "leaving well enough alone" is the right solution to a complicated moral dilemma. (p. 21)

Susan Terris, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 10, 1977.