by Lemony Snicket, 2001
Spoiler alert! Beatrice spoiler alert!
I think this is it! I think this is when we get our first clue that Lemony Snicket’s beloved departed Beatrice is the Baudelaire orphans’ mother. Walk with me here. The epigraph to The Miserable Mill reads, “To Beatrice – My love flew like a butterfly / Until death swooped down like a bat / As the poet Emma Montana McElroy said: / ‘That’s the end of that.’” Then, in this book, Jerome Squalor tells the siblings that their mother was an adventurous person, that they hiked up Mount Fraught which was “known for having dangerous animals on it, but your mother wasn’t afraid. But then, swooping out of the sky – “ Although this couldn’t have been the moment of Beatrice’s death, as Jerome states that this incident occurred twenty years ago, the similarities between this story and the epigraph serve as a sort of clue that links the Baudelaire’s mother with the mysterious woman who broke Lemony’s heart.
Well, perhaps I’m grasping at straws because, aside from that hint, The Ersatz Elevator continues to follow the same formula as the previous books. The siblings are placed in the care of Esmé Squalor and her husband Jerome in their ostentatious home that is anything but mired in squalor. While Jerome is well-meaning, he lacks all manner of a backbone and caves to his wife’s every desire to be “in.” If dark is “out” and light is “in,” they must light up their 70-something room apartment. If aqueous martinis are “out” and parsley soda is “in,” Jerome must leave early in the morning to pick up cases of the beverage. If orphans are “in,” the couple must take some under their wing, even if Esmé is hiding her true motivations behind her supposed desire to be “in.” Those motivations, of course, being that she’s in cahoots with Count Olaf over some slight caused to her by Beatrice. “I want to steal from you the way Beatrice stole from me,” Esmé tells the siblings after they’ve discovered the elevator shaft where Olaf has stashed the Quagmire triplets.
Alas, we don’t find out what that slight was (perhaps she was in love with Mr. Baudelaire, as Lemony was with Beatrice?) anymore than we find out what V.F.D. stands for, but we do get some decent social commentary in the form of Esmé refusing to donate money to the poor on the grounds of doing so means they will no longer be poor, and Isadora Quagmire maintaining that she’s still a poet and Duncan Quagmire maintaining that he’s still a journalist even while the two of them are prisoners. We get a metatextual laugh in the triplets being carried off in a literal red herring and we do discover a mysterious underground tunnel at 667 Dark Avenue that leads directly to the burned down Baudelaire mansion. This sixth book still poses more questions than it answers, but as we’re rounding the halfway point we’re sure to get more of these clues that allow us to draw the full picture of the Baudelaires, Olaf, and V.F.D.