“For a moment above and below eye level, all four limbs stuck out, and then, just as quickly, all four disappeared. It was quite a balancing act.”
When E. L. Konigsburg died two weeks ago I was in the midst of a very belated Bridge to Terabithia post, but as The View from Saturday is on my list of must re-reads, it’s fitting for my next choice. She’s perhaps more widely known for From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, which I never read but in my mind was always about mice. It’s not. I think somehow at a young age I associated it with Basil from The Great Mouse Detective and it just stuck? I don’t know, I watched a lot of movies with anthropomorphic mice as a child.
Anyway, I only had a vague recollection that The View From Saturday featured a school trivia team. From the moment I opened page one however, and read “Mrs. Olinski always gave good answers“ it was as though the words were imprinted on my brain under a layer of dust that just needed to be brushed away. It wasn’t even that I remembered how the story played out, because I didn’t. It was the words themselves, the exact phrases, that I recalled so precisely.
The View from Saturday is the story of The Souls – a foursome from Epiphany Middle School – and their teacher Mrs. Olinski. It starts at the end really, with the grade six Souls competing in the finals of the state academic bowl. This is a feat in itself as most teams that make it even to regionals are eighth grade. Throughout the story of the final match, Konigsburg weaves in both how the team was formed and the Souls were formed. “They told Mrs. Olinski that they were The Souls long before they were a team, but she told them that they were a team as soon as they became The Souls.“
The book is reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, as each question in the bowl final provides an opportunity to tell a story from the eyes of one of the four – Noah in the wedding, Nadia with the turtles, Ethan on the bus, and Julian at the play. Wedged in between their interlocking tales are some clues to Mrs. Olinski’s past.
If art imitates life, there’s comfort in seeing the good guys succeed. Some of the foursome, and certainly Mrs. Olinski, have faced stumbling blocks – divorce, death, and disability crop up through the book. But all of them emerge generous and kind-hearted rather than jaded people who use their troubles as an excuse for callousness. Granted they’re 11 and still have time to turn to cynicism or maliciousness, but I like to believe they stay wonderful.
While Mrs. Olinski admits she was on the verge of considering Hamilton Knapp as her final team member – the arf-ing, belching, dog poisoning class bully – ultimately she settles on the four souls having tea at Sillington House, and all five of them are better for it. Life isn’t always fair, but sometimes it plays out exactly as you hope.