Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

When Bad Things Happen To Other People

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders

I guess you could say that George Saunders' writing is magical realism, if the magic was performed by Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer's apprentice in Fantasia and the realism part was provided by Stephen Crane. His books, including CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, are incredibly odd, pretty surreal, and shockingly good.

However, his foray into the world of children's literature, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, is quite possibly the best thing he's done. The book is set in the town of Frip, a grim little place by the sea populated by three goatherding families and unfortunately, by Gappers. Each day, the Gappers (the pointy, eyeball-covered thing on the book cover) climb out of the ocean, divide into three groups, and set upon each family's goats. Then the children scrape the Gappers off the goats, throw them back into the ocean and the whole cycle repeats.

One little girl, Capable (seen here with her Gapper stick and bag), wonders why life has to be never-ending, sleepless, Gapper-scraping torture, but is told that's the way life has always been in Frip, and anyway, what would she do with all that free time if she didn't have Gappers to scrape off of goats?

Things get worse for Capable when the Gappers realize that Capable's house is closest to the ocean, and that instead of dividing up to torment the goats of Frip, they should all just pile on Capable's goats. Capable's neighbors all feel very bad for her troubles, but refuse to help her. They offer the counsel that they must have been spared the Gappers because of something good they did (and possibly that she is somehow less good not to have been spared also), and suggest that she work more efficiently to eliminate the Gappers, pull herself up by her bootstraps, etc.

Next, things take an unusual and big-hearted turn that I won't spoil. But let me add that this was somehow, a perversely appropriate book to find myself reading one year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. This may sound disrespectful, or like a trivialization, but it's not. The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip may be a kid's book, but the themes it addresses are big, very honest, and very adult. Check it out.

Also, if you are Gwen or Dorotha, this book is definitely for you.


Gwen said...

OMG, I feel so special to be specifically named in your post. I assume that's because there are goats in the book. I'm totally going to check it out.

mary_m said...

Actually, I mentioned you because there's something about the writing style that reminds me very much of yours. Also, I think that if you and Dorotha ever collaborated on a children's book, it would read like this book's long lost sister.

mary_m said...

And the goats... hmmm, I hadn't even thought about that!