Friday, June 08, 2007

Book One: The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater

307 pages. Time spent reading and writing: 3 hours (not counting interruptions to water the garden and help my son through a freak out after he read about "grades" in a book and feared getting an "F." So much for the benefits of homeschooling.)

The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater. Houghton Mifflin, 2007 (978-0-618-59444-3) $16.00

I'm not that familiar with Homer, but shouldn't this have been named The Nedyssey? It's very much a classic journey story, filled with encounters with magical people and places, all told in typical laid-back Pinkwater style.

Ned leaves behind an ordinary happy childhood in Chicago when his wealthy father is siezed with a desire to "eat in the hat" (The Brown Derby restuarant) and decides to relocate the entire family to Los Angeles. On an event filled train journey, Ned meets a shaman named Melvin, who gives him a stone turtle, telling him to take care of it at all times. Ned does his best to hold on to the turtle, while various villians occasionally attempt to steal it, and other odd characters make vague hints that something really crummy will happen if they succeed, but he spends most of his time enjoying the trip and then the bizarreness that was 1940's Los Angeles, sometimes accompanied by several movie stars and their kids, the ghost of a bellboy, a mystical giant Turtle and fat men from space.

As in most of Pinkwater's books, the movement of the plot plays second fiddle to descriptions, which is easy to forgive since he makes even the simplest things worth reading about:

"Our waiter was Charles. He was smooth. He was sharp. Just watching him put a plate on the table, you knew that he knew everything about food and being a waiter. If you wanted more ice water, he would be pouring it into your glass at the moment you first knew you wanted it--and the way he poured it was perfect. It was impossible to imagine he might spill water, no matter how much the train rocked--but if he had, I'm sure he would have done it in a way that made you happy you were there to see it."

You can also forgive a lot in a book that is so darned funny. Some of the jokes only an adult is likely to get--one of the chapter titles is "My Yiddishe Shaman"--but most of the humor comes from well-timed repetition and low-key wackiness. (After the book's villian steals the turtle at gunpoint and parachutes from a plane, the pilot calmly remarks, "Well, that was a first.")

Although I prefer a tighter plot and a bit more resolution, I thoroughly enjoyed The Neddiad. It's probably the coziest book ever written about the possible end of civilation, if only one of the funniest. (10 & up)

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