The Greatest Review Since Sliced Bread

sliced

The above title is, you’ll understand, not an assessment of the following review, but a play on words. We’re back on the literature train this week—or should I say the literature red wagon also known as (spoiler) NOSMIRC KAERTS.

Unlike several of its contemporaries, Don Robertson’s The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread has ebbed in popularity or given up ground to other coming-of-age titles like Stand By Me, The Catcher in the Rye, and Huckleberry Finn. Admittedly, these novels are practically canon, but I would be remiss not to argue that Sliced Bread should be mentioned in similar breaths.

After a couple situations in which delightfully-named protagonist Morris Bird III decides he has acted cowardly—or in an unacceptable fashion pursuant of schoolyard law—he resolves to “be brave” and skips school to set out on a four mile walk across town to visit his friend, Stanley. Like most coming-of-age tales, Morris’ journey (a normally unremarkable hike) becomes the microcosm for what will be his stroll out of the innocence of childhood and rite of passage into maturity.

As you might realize, this narrative summation is a well-trodden trope—perhaps even a formulaic plot. But when a young boy pulling his whiny sister in a wagon is expressed through the ever-present dichotomy of an imminent explosion threatening to destroy the town, well, now we have some suspense: Here’s a boy trundling along the street, his wagon wheels going tiddleump, tiddlelump, tiddleump. Here’s a gas leak, slowly winding through those same streets and descending into the sewers systems, waiting for an unsuspecting spark to send the city up in flames. Here, the mundane and the portent collide with riveting clarity.

Also, as I’ve pontificated in previous reviews, most of my fiction reading is also fiction critiquing—“how do I make my writing look like this writing?” is the underlying analysis. Since my most complete and actively shopped manuscript is both historical fiction and told through the eyes of a preadolescent, I boldly suggest that Sliced Bread is an absolute clinic on how to write the mind of a child and meanwhile keep it entertaining for adults. In a like way that Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye possesses a clairvoyant quality to which even readers of today say “Hey! I did that,” or “I remember a similar situation as a kid,” so too does Sliced Bread know just what Morris Bird III would think, say, and do all with uncanny authenticity of childlike wonder, ignorance, and even cynicism.

A corollary to why this novel succeeds—and, I’m realizing, is one of the main shortcomings with mine—is that Morris Bird III engages in very little introspection. Why is this absence so vital? Because kids don’t introspect. Adults do. So when child protagonists start espousing great life lessons, the astute readers may ponder, “Hm, this sounds a lot like an adult author talking.” I humbly receive my indictment. Conversely, Robertson captures Morris’ unfiltered, minimally reflective thoughts in a repetitive thought-loop that is the epitome of childlike processing. Morris bounces from one topic to another. He’s concerned about the moment and the next five minutes. Tomorrow is a 100 years away, so why bother with it? “Ah fooie,” he would say. But tomorrow is a lot closer than any of us believes and a lot more unpredictable whether we’ve given it a thought or not.

To close, I exhort you, don’t say ah, fooie! to this review. If you’ve read the other classics, add The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread to your list and collection. It might be the greatest thing you’ve since… well, you know. 4.5/5 stars.

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The Television Series Can’t Compare

american-gods-illo

Have you ever read a book by an author—and thoroughly enjoyed it—but when the opportunity arose to read another book by that same author you vacillated about it for months on end, even years, until finally surrendering and consequently ridiculing yourself for waiting so long? Is that a profoundly specific series of events only applicable to me? Likely. It is also the profoundly specific series of events which transpired upon my recent reading of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

I haven’t met a Gaiman book I didn’t like. This is partly why the frustration with my delay runs so deep. I’ve owned a copy of the book for so long I sometimes thought I already had read it. However, it only took my analysis of the first chapter (“Wow!”) before unequivocally knowing I had not previously read American Gods.

My post-reading confirms that Gaiman isn’t the first person to attempt a modern day “Old Gods in New Lands” story, and I suppose I knew that. Rather, it’s how Gaiman constructs the narrative that elevates this to Olympia heights. Shadow (the protagonist’s name) has just been released from prison. Thinking he will return to his old life, he finds the one he left isn’t there anymore: his wife and best friend are both dead. Now a loner and a drifter he hooks up with an equal parts gregarious and licentious grifter who offers to hire him and who just might turn out to be a god in disguise. A war is imminent as the gods of old countries prepare their final battle with America’s new gods (Television, Entertainment, Shopping Malls, Wealth) and Shadow is caught in the middle of the uprising.

What separates this idea from the others like it is Gaiman’s vision. He crafts the story in a way that I cannot put into words without trivializing its significance. He manipulates language and builds characters so seamlessly that I sometimes forgot it was happening. Because I’m constantly analyzing writing, it’s often tough for me to get lost in a narrative, but it happened here. Obliquely to this point, no small number of sci-fi/fantasy authors can be labeled prolific. I’ve reviewed several of them previously. They have large followings and propitiate their ravenous readers by pumping out novel after novel practically at the same rate that mere mortals like you and I get the hiccups. Yet, they have a shortcoming: because they are producing material so fast, inevitably some of that production will be deficient in quality.

Neil Gaiman is a different beast altogether. I’m sure he’s constantly writing, but at the estimate of a novel or collection every two years (which I’m still envious of), I don’t consider him prolific. But speed isn’t the point, it’s the content. I confess I haven’t read everything by him, but I’m confident enough to say, that I don’t believe he’s written a bad book. No, let me up the ante. He hasn’t even written a mediocre book. As with American Gods, each of them captures and encapsulates a sense of sublime wonder within the supernatural and the paranormal which, to me, is the greatest accomplishment fantasy should strive for. And we have a few copies in stock! 4.5/5 Stars.

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