A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some (with lots of swears)

#65 Trouble at Home

Never before has Liz looked so repulsive. Should be called "Trouble at Liz's Face"

My friends, I’m having a hard time coming up with anything worthwhile to say about this book so please have pity on me. You see, this book is about Ned and Alice Wakefield fighting and that should be about all you need to consider when you wonder if you missed out on something big by not reading this back in the day. And if you did read it, and you got more value out of it than I did, then bless your soul because I am hopeless in that department.

See, I have no clue why Francine, or whomever, decided to make not one, but THREE (technically four!) whole books about friction in the Wakefield home. I wondered if it was perhaps to reassure teenagers that fighting and tension are normal in any family. But Francine and crew previously spent so much time showing us that the Wakefields are the gods and goddesses of family harmony that seeing them having so many problems feels really, really awkward, not to mention totally forced and fake. I feel like I did when I was 14 and started dating an older boy and my dad sat me down for a sex talk but couldn’t bring himself to use the word sex. In other words, I want to leave the table NOW and pretend we never had this conversation.

So here are the basics, because I honestly feel there isn’t much of a plotline to cover. Maria’s dad, Peter Santelli, is a respected local politician now running for mayor of Sweet Valley. Wow, that was fast! They just elected a new mayor back in Super Thriller #3! Mr. Santelli is supposed to be the epitome of a good guy while his opponent is portrayed as total slime, or something like that. We never have regular old politicians in Sweet Valley; it’s either super good honest people or total depraved corrupt assholes who will get theirs handed to them in the end, most likely by a 16-year-old blonde do-gooder. (Here I am, predicting how all this bullshit will end already when I don’t get the pleasure of finding out for sure until book 67.) You can’t get away with shit in this town!

Jessica is all about being Maria’s friend because she thinks it would be so cool to know the daughter of the mayor. She makes me sick. Liz does, too, because she’s all thinking about how she’s closer to Maria than Jess and what a fake Jess is. Um, is that true? What the fuck? Since when does Maria hang out with Liz that much except when Winston is around? Jessica is the one who has cheerleading practice with Maria all week! Liz is only interested in being friends with someone when she a) spies an opportunity to play Dr. Phil or b) needs someone other than Todd to talk to (exhibit A: Enid).

Suddenly, someone deposits a large amount of money into Mr. Santelli’s bank account! It came out of nowhere and he can’t explain it! SCANDAL! Everyone is convinced Mr. Santelli is accepting bribes! His good name is ruined and maybe two days later, he’s to stand trial. Things sure move fast in this town. I guess when you have 20 summers per year, it has to work that way. Against his better judgment, Ned takes the case for Peter; Peter is begging him since they’re such good friends (since when?). Ned has major concerns because that’s just not his type of law; he hasn’t done a criminal case in 15 years. Well Ned, thanks for attempting to clear up what type of law it is you do because I’ve been confused. Not that this really helps any. Ned starts working long hours on the case while Alice is already working long hours, trying to secure a contract to expand the Valley Mall. They both aren’t at home much and when they are they either snipe about how the other half shouldn’t be taking on so many hours, or they just privately stew about it. Ned in particular is just golden about storming out of the room and sulking in his room while Alice shakes her head and goes on about her day. You know, they aren’t even working THAT many extra hours that I can tell. Just wait till they enter the 21st century and BlackBerries come into the equation.

The judge dismisses the case against Mr. Santelli because there isn’t enough evidence either way. Peter is devastated that he can’t clear his good name, so he just goes and drops out of the race because his reputation is completely ruined for life. Seriously, what the fuck is going on in this damn town? I hate when these books try to tackle any adult issues like law, politics, catching criminals or marriages crumbling. It doesn’t work, just give up!

Ned mopes around feeling like a jackass because his inexperience let his buddy down, or something. Meanwhile, Alice and her team win the contract for the mall. Alice feels she has to downplay her enthusiasm for her huge monster win because it puts Ned in a funk. Meanwhile, Ned is pissed that she actually must continue to put in extra hours to you know, do her damn job. I guess it’s only okay when he’s the one working the overtime, but now that he doesn’t have an active case, she can’t leave him to his own devices. Who will cook dinner? It sure as hell won’t be Jessica. She’s delighted that her parents aren’t getting along because it means they are too busy to notice her blatantly breaking rules and running up outrageous charges on the phone. (See the sub-plot.) Yep, you read it right, she’s HAPPY that her parents and siblings are MISERABLE because it means she can do what she wants and sack Liz with all the chores and no one will yell at her for it. What a dumb bitch. This family is super messed up.

Liz tries to diffuse the situation by making a special spaghetti dinner, but when Ned suggests that they have iced tea on the patio and wait for Alice to get home, it all goes wrong. Alice takes too long to get home, so the spaghetti boils too long and turns all gluey. Ned is enraged because they have to eat TV dinners instead. How is that Alice’s fault? Tell your daughter to keep an eye on the damn stove! Or, here’s an idea: you do it. Then they go to a fancy lawyer dinner or something at a new Italian restaurant (another one!) called Tosca’s where Ned runs into this young dickhead assistant named Griffin Pierce. Griffin makes an utterly shitty statement about Ned and the Santelli case and you know what Ned’s reaction is? The older, supposedly more distinguished, wiser, classier, more experienced member of the law firm doesn’t say a word, he just up and STORMS OUT OF THE RESTAURANT shaking like a leaf and about to bawl with anger. Then he peals out of the parking lot blaming Alice for making him go to Tosca’s like she had a gun to his head. WOW. Real professional way to act at a stupid work happy hour (which I hate by the way – does anyone like work happy hours? I hate work happy hours.) Damn. He should’ve told that asshole to remember his place around you know, a senior at the firm who could probably get him fired, but he had to be a big moody baby and run away. Now you see where Steven gets his behavior from! Anyway, after Ned leaves Tosca, Alice forces the twins to stay at the restaurant with her to make a good impression … um, I don’t think there is any impression you and your teenaged daughters can give that will make up for your husband, but nice try. Maybe Jessica can suck the unpleasant nature out of Griffin in the men’s room?

All throughout the book, Liz is unusually cautious to stay out of everything … until it’s time for somebody to screw something up big time. Then Liz’s meddlesome ways come raring back to life! The family’s annual weekend vacation to Lake Tahoe (no clue if it’s the real Lake Tahoe or not) is coming up. Alice is so wrapped up in her contract that she is afraid to go. So Stupid Liz talks to her assistant, Julia, and asks Julia to convince Alice to go on the vacation. Julia reluctantly agrees but coaxes Liz into giving her the number of the main Inn at the lake in case they need Alice in an emergency. Gee, can you guess what’s going to happen? Around the same time, Jessica overhears Ned talking with Mr. Santelli’s former campaign backers, one of whom is Bruce’s dad Henry Patman. They want Ned to step up and run for mayor. Ned is really hesitant and says he will think about it. Jessica tells Liz what she overheard and of course Jess is freaking out with glee because she is desperate to be a mayor’s daughter and rub herself all over some hot interns. She thinks she’d be important enough to meet the President and rub herself all over his interns too. Liz makes Jess swear not to say anything to anyone else. Heh, fat chance.

Well, choo chooooooooo! The Wakefield family train is leaving the station for Lake Tahoe and is about to crash and we’re all going to have to suffer through it. The weekend starts off nice with everyone swimming and cooking out and having a good time. Alice even seems to be keeping to her promise not to do any work for a change. But then, Jessica of course blabs about the mayor shit by mistake. Alice is shocked and furious that Ned had never mentioned this to her. He weakly claims that he tried but there was never any time what with her working all the time. I call bullshit on this one. There is always time! I mean, how about at night before you go to bed? She’s coming home at 7:30 or 8 every day, not midnight! Things worsen when Ned catches Alice looking at work papers in their room while everyone else is waiting to play their annual game of charades. (They wind up not doing the charades due to the ensuing fight. My eyes stayed dry.) Then the next day, a boy from the Inn runs up out of nowhere a-heavin’ and a-puffin’ with a phone message for Alice. Ned is enraged that Alice gave it out, although of course she didn’t. Liz is forced to confess to Alice that she was the one who did it. Alice doesn’t think it’s a big deal and I don’t think she rats out Liz to Ned or the rest of the family. On Sunday, they all go horseback riding and the boy comes again with another message. It seems all the work Alice’s team had been doing has been lost and they must start over. You mean those fuckers didn’t think to back anything up on floppies or whatever they had back then? Assholes. So of course Alice must rush home from the vacation to fix things. Ned acts like a big dick about it and threatens her, first by saying he’s going to run for mayor, then by saying if she walks out on the vacation then she is walking out on the marriage and the family. Spare me your melodrama, fuckface. Alice leaves. And that’s the end of the book! Thank God.

So, who’s right? Who’s wrong? They both are if you ask me, but Ned is way worse in my opinion. Alice shouldn’t hide her successes from him or play them down because then he feels left out, and she should try to reassure him or do something special to help him feel better about the Santelli thing. And yeah, it wouldn’t hurt for her to keep her promises or at least keep better track of her schedule so she doesn’t double-book family and work obligations. But Ned is a DICK. First of all, Alice was working on winning the mall contract long before he even took on the Santelli case or any of that shit. But he acts like she should just give up her dream project and all that – in fact, he comes out and says so! – because it’s going to cause her to work past dinner every night. Oh gee, how rough, he might have to cook his own damn dinner for a change. Not to mention her project is TEMPORARY. Also, making threats and displaying childish behavior like sulking in your room and deciding to run for a major political office you don’t even want just to get back at your wife demonstrates that your young whippersnapper douchebag assistant (Griffin) is right on the money to expose you to the whole office at the company dinner. I’m starting to think Griffin merely sees Ned for who he is and wanted to show everyone else, too. Ned needs to realize his personal failures don’t mean the rest of the family should cease their daily lives until he feels better and can come out of his room and act like a grown man. And that’s my attempt at playing marriage counselor for the day.

The sub-plot: Jessica is super jealous when Lila’s father buys her a video camera for her “half-birthday.” That Lila! I remember trying to convince my mom to get me presents for my half-birthday years ago and she just rolled her eyes at me. To get back at her, Jess starts calling into a teen party line that Lila doesn’t know about, so she can get a hot new boyfriend that way. (Um wait a minute … party line … like the ones you see advertised on late night TV? Hahaha.) Right, she’s had so much success with anonymous flirtations and blind dates before. Great idea, this one. The party line costs a dollar an hour but Jess doesn’t pay any attention to the charges and takes it for granted that her parents will just pay the bill and shut up because they are too busy fighting. Her logic sucks. Jess starts calling in on the regular and falls for the voice of some dude named Charlie who tells her “you are poetry” and shit like that. Jess brags about Charlie to the other girls who are skeptical that he exists so Jess has to call in to the party line with Amy listening in to prove that Charlie is real. But Charlie always has a reason he can’t meet Jessica in person. How … creepy? He’s probably 50 years old in real life. In fact, when Jess calls his private number for the first time it’s answered by a much older man named Charlie who laughs and says he’s Charlie Junior’s dad … I’ll bet. The book ends without us finding out about the real Charlie so I guess this sub-plot will carry over to the next book along with the main one. Oh goody. I hope it’s way more exciting in that one then it is here, because I was falling asleep. Oh, as for Lila? She couldn’t give a fuck less that Jess found out about the party line before she did, or about the party line in general. Lila is so fucking awesome.

This cover is so weird. Jessica looks too wide-eyed and innocent to be Jessica, not to mention she’s happy her parents are fighting, not sad! Steven’s head is the exact same as it is on every cover. His expression NEVER CHANGES. And Liz is so fug. She looks nothing like her twin. Her face is weird and off and, truthfully, I’m wondering if she is in fact supposed to be Alice …? No, really … Does Alice also wear barrettes?

Let’s get into my WTFs. First of all, how about the latest “new” Italian restaurant in Sweet Valley? Small town my ass, I’ve never seen a small town with so many fancy Italian and French restaurants! I grew up in a small town and getting a McDonald’s was a huge big deal for fuck’s sake!

Alice has a car phone now … yet for some reason, she can’t even be bothered to call to say she’ll be late for dinner. Not that it should matter, because in every book before this one, it’s been underscored how both Alice and Ned are so successful that they must work long hours and that’s why the twins are responsible for cooking dinner. So who cares if Alice walks in 5 minutes late? Get the fuck over it!

Griffin Pierce reminds me a lot of Caroline Pearce, and if their last names weren’t spelled differently I’d swear they must be related! Although I’m always tripping up on how Caroline’s name is spelled. I know I have spelled it both ways at various points in this blog, but I think that’s because I was too lazy to check each time … or maybe the books can’t keep it straight either.

The plot on the back of the book doesn’t match what happens in the story! It claims that the major bone of contention throughout the book is Ned running for mayor and Alice not liking the people who support him. But Ned doesn’t decide to run for mayor till the very end of the book; in fact, in one of the last paragraphs. and he makes the decision solely to get back at Alice for having to go home and work.

The family has iced tea on the patio while they wait for Alice to get home for Liz’s gluey spaghetti, and it says “the sound of the clock ticking loudly didn’t help” the mood … um, they have a clock outside?

The other kids on the party line are: Nicola, Bea (yes, like Bea Arthur), Michael, Michelle, and a really annoying girl named Sara who keeps trying to “steal” Charlie away from Jessica.

Okay, speaking of the party line, there’s a part where Michael is flirting with Nicola and Bea with Sara cutting in, so Jessica and Charlie can just talk to each other apart from everyone else and have their own side conversation … on the same line … What the fuck? How does that work? How can you listen to someone else on a phone call when the other people’s voices are just as loud? Maybe there’s some weird way that this works that I’m not aware of.

The party line sounds like a boring piece of shit … everyone talks about shopping and crap like that … gee, how fun. I thought the whole point of these party lines was to have phone sex with anonymous people and then hook up with them in person later? Or at least, that’s what the local Quest ads would have you believe.

Two random boys named David and Ben leave messages for Jessica in the beginning of the book … no clue who they are.

Todd apologizes to Liz for having to eat Chinese because of his “tight budget” – since when does filthy rich BMW-drivin’ 12-bedroom mansion boy here have a “tight budget”?

Charlie is from Riverdale which is yet another town close to Sweet Valley. Okay, now there’s a Riverdale and a Riverside!

In the back of the book … is yet another ad/order form for those Caitlin books of Francine’s. They were really pushing those back in the day, but I don’t think I ever saw th,em displayed in my local Waldenbooks!

Coming up next … Oh don’t worry this story of disintegrating family life will continue, just in case you were concerned. But first … Bruce stars in his own Super Star!

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Comments on: "#65 Trouble at Home" (5)

  1. As this was written in the ’90s, is it just me who thinks that Jessica wouldn’t have trouble rubbing up against the President and his interns?

  2. pibetaalpha said:

    I almost never took the “Ned and Alice having trouble” storyline as canon because nothing bad or real-life can ever happen to our sterling, trouble-free Wakefields.

  3. pibetaalpha said:

    Ned was very patriarchal and old-school in this one – and yes, a dick.

  4. Liz looks constipated on this cover haha.

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