Friday, December 3, 2010

What if Holden Caulfield Wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

It'd pretty much be this. 

Only if Holden became a lot less annoying after the first fifty pages and got a terminal disease and had to save the world rather than just walk around Manhattan for a few days.  Which could only be an improvement. (Sorry, Catcher fans:  You've met the uber-Holden-hater.  Well, hate's maybe too strong a word.  Detester?  "Why did I waste my time on this book"-er?  "How in the world did this become 'an American classic'"-er?)

Anyhoo.  Two hip hip hoorah's for the breezy, often laugh-out-loud silly cross-country, cross-dimensional, darkly mind-bending Going Bovine by Libba Bray.  Can you say Twenty-First Century Picaresque?

Its 'hero' is a sixteen year old slacker with Mad Cow named Cameron Smith.  His sidekicks: Gonzo the dwarf (maybe his Marvin?) and Balder the Norse god/garden gnome. His mentor:  a punk angel named Dulcie.  His trek: from his smalltown Texas home to DisneyWorld via New Orleans and the eleventh dimension.  His task:  Rid the world of the Wizard of Reckoning and his Fire Giants plus save Dr. X and thus save his own life. (prions and black holes and snow globes have something to do with it)  It's the monomyth for sure, the ole Hero's Adventure, but with decidedly modern twists, and with allusions to Cervantes and Star Wars and Norse myth sprinkled in for good measure.  But plenty sassy and utterly engaging.  Flawed?  Absolutely.  But the most rollicking read of the year.

And it's one of those books that goes this way: 

First, you're a little skeptical of the mannered "teenager-speak" in the protagonist's voice and the gratuitous references to masturbation, but ...

Then the plot kicks in and the forced, clipped speech eases off, as does the protagonist's initially self-involved, sarcastic, entirely unappealing personality.  (I mean, I get what she's striving for: underdog, anti-hero, rudderless young'un who'll find his higher self on the journey - but it's just too blatantly annoying at first.) I'd say it's a lucky thing for readers that Bray shifts to her strong suits: impeccable pacing and an often satirically infused plotline w/the funny just flying, deepened by lots of apt pop references and literary allusions. So...

Then you start flipping the pages as fast as you can because it's actually compelling and smile-inducing and rich.

And then you simply have to slow down because you can't stop laughing.

Then you ease up to pace yourself because you want to savor this book for many days, not just a few hours.

And then you're annoyed again by more gratuitous sex and drunken shenanigans, but then it's back to the plot and you're off to the races again.

This novel brought me back to my first Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman reads, that serene push-pull of the generously light-hearted yet darkly resonant novel. 


p.s.  My actions: 
  I'm going to work on my wit.  Bray's most memorable stylistic strength in this novel is her ability to mix a classic storyline with a contemporary sense of humor that draws on the rhythms and register of everyday speech.  Although my blogs aren't likely to approach the mythic any time soon, I can certainly work in or work from or work out a voice with more of a comic kick.  At least at times.  If the moment strikes.  Or the muses. 


  And I'm going to refresh my understanding of Norse mythology.  It's been so long since I studied that subject that I'd forgotten about Yggdrasil.  I'm going to the library today anyway, so I'll find a book and see where it leads me.

   Or maybe I'm moved to make a Balderish garden gnome.  Stay tuned...

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