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April 2008
 
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Ernestine Takes Over, By Walter Brooks (1935)

FRED and Ethel Thompson could be a younger version of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Mitty: Fred has erotic daydreams, but Ethel repeatedly punctures his fantasies and henpecks Fred while dragging him to the dull Manhattan parties of Winton Smith and other pompous neighbors.

At one such boring party, Fred imagines a beautiful female companion: shapely blonde Ernestine Darling. Suddenly, she appears beside him…and everyone else sees her too! Ernestine appeals so brazenly to Fred's virility, she soon has him literally swinging from the chandelier.

Ernestine swiftly grows real enough to acquire her own car, Greenwich Village apartment, and career as a painter. Yet she becomes whatever Fred and his male friends want her to be. To escape one awkward situation, Fred wishes Ernestine would acquire an impacted tooth: instantly, she does.

Ernestine's body is malleable, but her mind is definitely her own. One evening, while Fred is naked in the bath, she materializes beside him in a swimsuit…a moment before Ethel enters the bathroom. Next stop, divorce court.

Ernestine Takes Over is deeply in Thorne Smith territory, but has a touchingly romantic ending when Fred and Ethel learn to let fantasy cohabit with reality.

Walter Rollin Brooks (1886-1958) is best known for his children's books about Freddy the detective pig. Brooks's magazine stories about a talking horse named Ed spawned a popular sitcom. Ernestine Takes Over was his only adult fantasy novel.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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