Monday, September 13, 2010

Someday My Prince Will Come (or will he?)

Several weeks ago, a publicist at Penguin Books asked me if I'd be interested in receiving a copy of Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess, about a young American woman whose goal, for most of her life, was to marry into the British royal family ... specifically, to marry Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's son. I'm not enamored of the royal family, but I do have to admit, my curiosity was piqued to read about how one goes about snaring a Windsor.

Jerramy Fine, the author, was raised in Colorado mountain country, a place where rodeo, not polo, ruled, and where she spent her first 18 years convinced she'd been switched at birth. Her parents were bona fide hippies, but she imagined her real parents were English aristocrats on vacation in Denver. From her earliest years, Fine was fascinated with England -- specifically, the British royals -- and when she was six or seven, she saw Peter Phillips' name in the line of succession and decided he'd be her prince someday, never mind that technically he's not a prince. Thus began her quest for princessdom.

Ok, let's stop. I  just don't get princesses. At. All. Although I loved reading about queens and princesses when I was a child, it was because they tended to get their heads lopped off (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Marie Antoinette), survived awful childhoods (Elizabeth I), or became pawns in intricate political intrigues (Mary Stewart, Jane Grey ... both of whom also lost their heads. Literally.)  I've never wanted to be one, and instead, fantasized about a life in letters. I don't like fluffy pink frou-frou. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I spotted a penis on the ultrasound at my four-month pregnancy checkup and thought, "Thank God -- no princesses!" Sure, being a princess looks glamorous -- lots of designer clothes and jewels, first-class travel, gorgeous digs -- but the price for all this seems to be a loss of privacy and a highly restrictive life where you can never just be "normal." No thanks.

In the first few pages of the book, Fine admits that everyone in her life knew she wanted to be a princess. She never hid or shied away from her intentions. When people told her she was living in a fantasy world, she writes, "My question was this: What's so wrong with living in a fantasy world? Seriously. What's so wrong about ignoring the conventions and practicalities of the so-called real world, and actually pursuing your childhood dream? Sometimes I think the 'real world' is just a phrase invented by adults to give credibility to the miserable lives they've created for themselves. Feel free to call me delusional, but I was someone on this planet who, no matter how silly it seemed, was actually listening to my heart -- I trusted it, believed it, and followed it. And in my opinion, there was nothing more 'real' in this world than that."

Hmm. As someone who'd frequently heard growing up I should give up on my dreams of becoming a writer for something more "practical," I could identify. So I kept reading.

Unlike most girls who dream of becoming a princess, Fine's desire never waned. All through high school, and even college, she kept a tattered picture of Peter Phillips taped to her mirror, and immersed herself in everything British and royal. Fine brilliantly contrasts her interests with her "real" life ... a father with long hair who eventually becomes a cannabis priest, a mother who refused to wear a bra and rails loudly in supermarkets about food additives (my kind of woman), a skateboarding younger brother named Ezra. And it's hilarious. As well as frustrating because I think we all know the horror of being young and stuck with family who just doesn't get you.

Fine eventually makes it to England during a junior year abroad program, and sets the wheels in motion to meet her future husband. She makes a few friends in aristocratic circles, actually meets Princess Anne (her future mother-in-law!) at an event, and feels even more certain that the path she's chosen is the right one. She returns to England as a graduate student, and this is where things get interesting. Fine begins to see that the England in her fantasy life doesn't quite measure up to the England she's living. First off, she's at the London School of Economics, a haven for foreigners, not Brits, so she finds it hard to meet the natives. Then she discovers how very different Brits are from Americans ... whereas Americans tend to welcome new friends, the British are far more reserved and prefer to hang out with people they've known for ages, interlopers need not apply. Yet Fine does manage to ingratiate herself into an aristocratic Oxford set, and participates in some hi-jinx with British men that further confuse her. During her stay, she experiences some highs and lows in her pursuit of Peter Phillips: she discovers he's got a girlfriend (low), but she's American (high), which means there's hope for her.

Since we know that Peter Phillips ends up marrying a Canadian (and is, in fact, about to become a father and make Queen Elizabeth a great-grandma), we know that Jerramy Fine doesn't get her prince. Or does she? You'll have to read the book to find out. I thought Fine's single-minded pursuit of her prince a little ... well, mercenary. When she's in England, she refuses to hang out with anyone who doesn't have a British accent; then when she realizes variations in accents are indicative of social class, she becomes even more discriminating. But since the book has a satisfactory ending and I felt that Fine had learned something during her journey, her earlier behavior didn't bother me. Indeed, what I liked about her was her refreshing honesty. She never hid her intentions from people who were sure to knock her down. And even if you have no interest in royalty or princesses, this memoir has enough commentary on Britain and British life to appeal to most any Anglophile.

Have you read Jerramy Fine's memoir? What did you think? Add your opinion to the comment section below.