Is it compatible to mine?
If your sign matches mine
Think of what we'll have
We'll be making babies together, forever
“What’s Your Sign, Girl?” - Danny Pearson/Tony Sepe
When I first moved to Chicago I religiously checked my own horoscope on my birthday in the Sun-Times because they include a section called “If Your Birthday Is Today…” and below would be a paragraph about what the coming year had in store for me – and the thousands of other people born in the same day, of course. I would cut it out, put it on my fridge, and review it on the day before my birthday. Invariably it was 90% wrong. But I never bothered to think about all those other people who were born on the same day in the sign of Sagittarius. How did the year work out for them?
That’s the premise of Don’t Rely on Gemini (1969), “a suspense and astrological novel” from the wildly inventive Vin Packer, aka M. J. (Marijane) Meaker. I didn’t for a second believe the hype on the paperback's cover promising “the most gripping spellbinder since Rosemary’s Baby.” For some reason throughout the early 1970s anything that remotely had anything to do with occult, supernatural or even New Age topics were tied to either Rosemary’s Baby (1967) or The Exorcist (1971) or both. The astrology element in this book is used merely to study the concept of parallel lives. A savvy and better-read editor would have done well to compare Packer’s novel to the works of Charles Dickens because coincidence and family secrets run rampant in this book. But would a quasi-literary analogy like that sell books? You bet your crystal talisman, it wouldn’t.
Archie Gamble is the head writer of a TV special featuring the renowned astrologist Anna Muckermann. In order to add legitimacy to the show Mrs. Muckermann wants to talk about astro-twins and have a few on the air to talk about their lives. Mrs. M has documented evidence of several cases of astoundingly parallel lives in astro-twins that she offers up to Gamble, one case dates back to the days of George III. She insists that the TV show will be a huge draw if people are confronted with the truth of two strangers with the same star charts leading similar lives. This she claims will be proof that the rotation of the planets and other celestial activities do indeed rule our lives. When the moon in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars not only will peace guide the planets but the ratings will probably go sky high. Or so Mrs. Muckermann and Archie hope.
Staff members including Archie Gamble himself give out their birthday info and ads are placed in newspapers to lure in prospective volunteer astro-twins. There are several bites. The most fascinating comes from Margaret Dana who volunteers her husband Neal as a match to Gamble’s birthday data. She invites Gamble and his wife Dru to her home to meet her husband and discuss the possibility of appearing on the TV show. Sounds like fun, right? But this is a crime novel. Guess what follows? Worse than Mercury in retrograde, my friends. Being born in the house of Gemini with Saturn rising adds up to a volatile Molotov cocktail of a star chart as we will soon find out.
But that’s not the worst of it. Neal Dana never knew about the Gambles coming because his wife was being coy in holding back the surprise of the evening. Neal, you see, was hoping that his wife was going out to her Italian lesson so he could have yet another secret tryst with his adorable mistress Penny. While making up a tale about his wife leaving the house and ushering the Gambles off his porch Dru Gamble hears a woman crying in a back room somewhere. She is sure it’s Margaret but she and Archie agree to leave because something certainly is not right and they are clearly not welcome. So the Gambles drive away.
Then… Archie loses control of his car going down the treacherous hill that leads to and from the Dana house. He crashes into a tree. They have to go back to the house and ask for help. Just as Neal Dana is about to bury the body in the backyard!
Don’t Rely on Gemini sounds initially like a lurid tale from the preposterous world of pulp fiction. Noirish to the core everyone seems utterly doomed amid the insanely surreal action and a pile-up of plot contrivances. Meaker, however, is playing with a loaded deck here. Each contrivance and coincidence is carefully calculated to twist the story toward her theme as she dares to play with superstition and fatalism in allowing her characters to surrender to fate rather than make well thought out decisions. She manages to juggle the ostensibly absurd moments with a very deadly combination of characters who are easily manipulated and those who give in to obsessive thoughts. Mrs. M proves to be perhaps the most dangerous person of all. In her zealous beliefs and dire pronouncements she contaminates the Gamble’s marriage and their relationship by planting seeds of doubt and foretelling impending doom if the couple does not follow her advice. Saturn is ruling their lives; failure to heed all the warnings will lead to disaster. The law of astro-twins does not lie!
But, of course, we know what Archie and Dru don’t – that Margaret is dead. That Neal is having an affair of his own with Penny. Neal becomes dangerously obsessive about Margaret, his guilt overpowering him. Penny is fearful she is losing her older lover and she’s right. She can never hope to gain back his attention when he’s drowning in such a powerful nostalgia, she cannot compete with the memory of the perfect wife he is creating in his mind. Nothing can tarnish that memory just as no one can bring Margaret back to life. Someone is going to have to pay the price for that horrible accident. But wait…was it an accident? Didn’t Penny push Margaret down the stairs?
This was the last novel Meaker wrote using her "Vin Packer" pen name. The 1970s found her turning to juvenile novels which apparently were her most successful books. I have acquired several of the Packer books over the years, but oddly this most recent one (originally purchased for last year's "Friday Fright Night" meme but proved less suited for that Halloween feature) is the first I've read. I'll be digging out the other Vin Packer books I own and tearing through them throughout the rest of this year. Stay tuned.