Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Of men and monsters

So I have spent much of my life feeling like I'm on the outside part of an inside joke that I don't understand. I attribute a lot of this to having grown up outside the US, but I realized that probably an equal amount of it is having never had a television.

There wasn't much point to having a television in Germany, because there was one English channel that played content it could get for free, which meant a lot of Unsolved Mysteries. After we moved to the States, my parents didn't buy a television because there didn't seem much of a point to it, having not had one for so long.

I think not having a TV is a value-neutral choice. There's nothing inherently wrong with having a television. However, I didn't realize how much American arcana is wrapped up in television. In addition to never having seen things like an episode of Cheers or All In the Family or any of those classics, I had a really hard time grasping that just anyone could watch anything available on television, and was frankly rather shocked at a lot of the content. So much so that sometimes I have to go put on another set of pearls, just to clutch them.

Which is kind of funny, coming from the Land of Exposed Teutonic Boobage. Seriously, in Germany boobs are everywhere, selling plastic surgery, cars, bathing suits, and face cream. I literally ran into a pair when I went around a corner while looking across the street and faceplanted into an advertisement. Boobs are just No Big Thing. That sort of relaxed attitude to the errant nipple clearly never made the jump across the Atlantic. In high school, I took a language immersion course in the summer on a college campus, and the staff had stocked the common rooms with German magazines, which are chock full o'boob, and some industrious counselor had gone through and carefully drawn black Sharpie bikinis on all the Claudia Schiffer look-alikes, lest the students' sanitized American minds be sullied by acres of Germanic cleavage.

Which is doubly weird in that while we lose our collective minds over a wardrobe malfunction, there's a tremendous amount of violence in prime-time television.

WHICH, in an extremely round-about way, brings me to the subject of this post - Young Adult fiction!! The parameters of YA fiction are super fluid, but I don't tend to go into the YA section all that often, because I (erroneously) and thinking of what I find appropriate for YAs, however you're defining them, and my appropriate-meter is apparently extremely low.

So, when I checked out Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist and its sequel, The Curse of the Wendigo, I was all WHAT THIS IS MEANT FOR CHILDREN?! HEAVENS! and ran to find my backup Pearls of Outrage.

This is super violent! And extremely bodily-fluid filled! They're also really good, like training-wheels-Stephen-King, but dang.

Anyway! Onto the review part of this post:

The Monstrumologist and The Curse of the Wendigo follow rich, manic-depressive narcissist Pellinore Warthrop, the titular monstrumologist, and his young ward, twelve-year-old Will Henry. Will's father was Warthrop's faithful assistant, and, like many of Warthrop's acquaintances, died horribly, so Warthrop takes in the orphaned Will, from whose diaries the story is taken.

A gruesome discovery by an elderly graverobber in their quiet New England town kicks the plot into motion, sending Warthrop and Will on a quest to stop a ravenous foe and exposing some nasty secrets in Warthrop's past. From violated corpses to a lunatic rotting alive in an asylum to the fetid hold of a former slave ship carrying a fatal cargo to the New World, Yancey deftly sketches atmosphere and environment, and his occasional moments of dry levity shine against his dark, soggy New England, populated by men and monsters, with the line in between often blurring.

The relationship between Will and Warthrop is undoubtedly the book's strongest point. Warthrop is a self-engaged, deeply insecure, brilliant, and arrogant douchebag, and he treats Will as a combination whipping boy, man-of-all-work, and unwilling psychologist. Although Will's a naturally hardy and resilient soul, he's still a twelve year old, and prone to completely age-appropriate outbursts that alternately baffle and enrage Warthrop.

The book's sequel, The Curse of the Wendigo, sees Will and Warthrop headed to Alaska in pursuit of John Chanler, who has vanished in search of the elusive wendigo. Warthrop and Chanler were friends, if the prickly Warthrop can truly be said to have any friends, but due to the slight complication of Chanler marrying Warthrop's former fiancee, they're not really on speaking terms. Warthrop still carries a torch for Muriel, but the man they find in the Alaskan wilderness barely resembles Chanler, and once he's returned to his wife, all hell breaks loose.

With a colloquium of fellow monstrumologists, Warthrop and Will pursue an ancient enemy who seems delighted to have been transplanted to New York City, which I imagine affords far more prey than the Alaskan tundra.

The Curse of the Wendigo ups the violence and it most emphatically does not end well. People get nommed and eviscerated, Warthrop's antagonistic relationship with Will doesn't improve, and a host of colorful characters and equally colorful beasts are encountered.

So! Read these books? Definitely! Let your kids read them?

Sure, why not? Stock up on night lights though.

Also, there is nary a boob to be found.

1 comment:

  1. TV - the bane of our childhood. My love of books were born from the void of no television. Consequently, 'Leave It To Beaver,' 'I Love Lucy,' and 'Mr. Ed' are lost to me. However, 'Peyton Place' was watched religiously - twice a week! - and once the theme music came on it was off to bed for everyone! I never saw a single episode of that serial that starred Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neil. I did read that book and maybe you should, too. I'm guessing that's why we weren't allowed to see it. Nothing from the book but the characters names could have made it to the TV screen.

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