Proceed with caution – POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
The Ersatz Elevator picks up where The Austere Academy leaves off. The Baudelaires are put under the care of Jerome and Esmé Squalor, an affluent young couple living in 667 Dark Avenue. Jerome is a pleasant man, and takes a liking to the Baudelaires, but his wife Esmé is another story, caring very little for anything other than her money and what’s “in” and “out.” The Baudelaires’ new living situation does not deter the ever-scheming Count Olaf, whose latest plan involves him assuming yet another false identity: Gunther the art auctioneer. While the Baudelaires cook up a defense, they also launch an investigation into the whereabouts of their friends, the Quagmires, whom they believe have been kidnapped by Olaf and his henchmen.
“I’m very happy you’re here, because orphans are in and when all my friends hear that I have three real live orphans, they’ll be sick with jealousy, won’t they, Jerome?”
While reading this installment, I was particularly struck by Esmé’s obsession with “in”-ness. While I laughed at the hyperbolic nature of it, I was nevertheless intrigued because trend-following is something very human, isn’t it? We all follow trends; some to a higher or lower degree than others, but we all follow, don’t we? Trends in fashion, in the ideologies that we adopt, in the movements that spring up around us… And like Esmé, we firmly believe them to be very important, and to determine what’s socially acceptable and what’s outré. I don’t think the concept of trends is necessarily a bad thing. Certainly, I don’t believe that it’s healthy for people to do things just because other people are doing it; people need to form their own convictions and opinions. Neither do I believe that just because something is trendy it’s automatically something worth doing or subscribing to. But what I mean is that trends – and trend following – say a lot about the society that they’re adopted in, and how people think and act en masse, and I find that terribly fascinating.
“Well, I don’t want to argue.”
I was also struck – and deeply – by Jerome’s desire to avoid any and all conflict. Not only was I bothered that Jerome did nothing when the Baudelaires needed him to stand up for them, I was soberly reminded of the consequences of not being brave and standing up when action is needed. I don’t like conflict, and sometimes I avoid it by complying with people in circumstances where I should have spoken my mind. I’m definitely getting better about knowing when to let things slide and when to stick up for myself and others, but it’s still a struggle for me. But I have to say, after reading this book the struggle has gotten easier.