So, after a fair amount of time caught in the spell of Gravity’s Rainbow, I’ve once again jumped back into devouring books like PEZ (incidentally, ate a lot of PEZ in the last 48 hours). I thought originally that The Wild Things would be the perfect light re-entry into “other books” after the density of Pynchon but – despite reading it in less than a day – I was definitely wrong. If anything, this book was heavier than Pynchon, in an emotionally affecting sense. Oh,
I don’t need to go into how, as a child, I read Where The Wild Things Are. I did, I know I did… but actually, I don’t remember it like so many people seem to. I mean, I have a copy of it and I remember the images and the slightly scary nature of the book – but I moved pretty quickly beyond picture books (hey, patting myself on the back) and my childhood memories are based more in Roald Dahl and The Boxcar Children than anything else. Oh, and anything relating to dinosaurs. But I digress: the point of this is that I watched the gear-up to the movie release somewhat detachedly. As, I guess, did most of my friends. I think we were a generation removed from the true “wow” of that book. However, as I’m obsessed with pretty books, I had to have the fur-covered edition of Dave Eggers’ novel (which, as he willingly admits, is his own story based on the film based on the book – but not in the way that, for example, that “movie adaptation” of Jurassic Park was just a watered down version of the movie which itself was a watered down version of the novel). Finally got around to getting it and let’s just spend a moment in awe of how cool the fur-covered book is. Yes, it looks like a book out of the Harry Potter universe but that’s irrelevant because it is SOFT. Oh man. I love it. It looks so distinct on a shelf AND IT’S SOFT. So there’s that.
The story itself… I don’t remember it being so sad. So scary. So everything-I-don’t-need-right-now-as-I-freak-out-about-graduating-and-entering-the-real-world. Because that’s what the book is about, not unlike how David Mamet’s The Cryptogram. It is about growing up, about how children lose that certain spark of childhood. I certainly haven’t “grown up” and hope that I never will – I love my imagination and my ridiculous side – but at the same time, I’ve always been a bit old at heart. Responsible, mature, all those things… and I remember when it clicked for me that there are bigger and scarier things in the world than I could fathom but that I would, in fact, need to begin to fathom them.
For Max, in this book, its his science teacher telling him about how the sun will eventually die. I mean, anybody reading this knows that and has known it and we aren’t all that scared because at even our most pessimistic guess, that’s billions of years away from now. But think about it – if you’re a kid of about ten and you’re told suddenly that the sun is going to go out… that’s a big idea to grapple with. Eggers brings it back throughout the book, too, and it ties the entire narrative together on this idea that there are these bigger things that are scary but that we have to face.
When Max gets back home at the end, Eggers writes that he “almost” really sees his mother – because even after the adventures with the Wild Things, Max is still a kid. He’s just not-as-much of a kid anymore. Nobody really understands their parents, not until they’re much older (I mean, I don’t) but they begin to understand them better, understand more about them. That’s what this book is about – its about coming to understand just a little bit more. Carol sits and watches for the sun to come up every day when Max knows that it will, even though he too is scared that it won’t. Its that difference that’s what matters.
Not to say the book is entirely somber – there are some really fun scenes or even moments, like the one with the old man down the street and the descriptions of the different parts of the island. But the Wild Things are all one form or another of unhappy and none of them really manage to find lasting happiness and that… well, that sucks. Its tough to read a book where the characters – as fantastical and childish as they may be – are unhappy. It doesn’t make you feel all that great inside and its only at the end, when Max returns home, that there is a sense of happiness. Max eating the dinner his mom made for him and then seeing her and standing with her… it is a beautiful moment. There will be far worse moments to come – because it seems that, indeed, Max has been gone for some time (the snow has melted, apparently) and that won’t go over well – but the moment itself is one of those simple ones that you cherish… because they don’t come around that often and even when they do, they aren’t guaranteed to last.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. The book gets an entire point for presentation but loses a half point because 14 pages were missing in the middle of it. Come on, McSweeney’s. Past that, it is a good book but the somber and slightly detached tone makes it a bit heavy on the heart – almost too much so. That’s what drags it down – that and the fact that, in the end, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Things are never quite how we remember them from childhood, though, are they?
Once Upon A Time IV: So moving right along to our second book for the Quest and I’m classifying it as “folklore.” The source material, as I mentioned at the beginning, is so engrained in our culture – or at least among the people I associate with – that we have our own versions of that childhood story. We all had stories of “running away” – whether really running away after a fight or just for an afternoon with friends – and having amazing adventures that we’d recount later, usually involving magic or monsters or creatures or what-have-you. The Wild Things are passed down from generation to generation and this new version is simply one generation changing it in order to share it with the next in a way they might better understand.