Well, it is a review, but mostly it was a contest entry for McSweeney’s recent columnist contest. I didn’t win so you get it as a blog entry. Here’s what I submitted:
Life Lessons, by C. A. Bridges
My columns, should you choose to accept them, would be a variety of subjects with the common thread being the real life lessons I take away. Example:
Review: “The Graveyard Book,” by Neil Gaiman
Ordinarily one might think I have no reason to read a children’s book, as I am no longer a child and frankly wasn’t much of one to begin with. But there are lessons to be learned from all books great and small, and I loathe missing the chance for enrichment in any form.
This particular form is currently garnering all the praise it can get. Hordes of critics, writers’ organizations and librarians, working in shifts, have been feverishly devising new awards to quickly bestow upon this lively (ha!) tale of a small, recently orphaned boy raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Morbid as the subject may be, the lessons the boy garners are valuable ones indeed. Lessons of bravery, common sense and deduction, stories of responsibility and valor. Lessons valuable enough, in fact, that even after only a few short chapters I judged them worthy enough to be passed to all children.
I started small, with a nephew.
Jimbo, as he was unfortunately known, was a particularly sticky and noisome boy, with an equally annoying family (sorry, sis). My intended program of involuntary personal growth could only benefit him. But I decided, upon reflection, that it would be unnecessarily cruel to actually murder his parents, as well as being too much work. Instead I offered to feed and water him for a weekend so that his newly emancipated mother and father might enjoy the bliss of a quiet house, and then, once he was in my clutches, I merely informed him that he was now an orphan.
I had been concerned that the lack of physical violence in his presence might fail to suitably traumatize him for my purposes but as it turned out, detailed, step-by-step description of his parents’ fictional, horrendous demise was quite enough, especially when I added the appropriate gestures and sound effects. This was an excellent sign! A traumatized child is a child ready to learn. It was off to the graveyard!
Of the cemeteries in our area, only one fit my needs, i.e. had the right combination of gothic decoration and lax security. I led him to the center, tied his leash to an especially ornate headstone (with a rather well-done bust of a winged angel), gave him a short speech about how I envied him his new life, and legged it away to watch from a distance.
To Jimbo’s credit, he stopped crying after barely a day had passed. But I have to express my profound disappointment in the local apparitions. Where were the spectral caregivers, ready to step up and take a hand in the little tyke’s development? Where was the wise old dead Victorian admiral, or the kindly dead couple who never had a child in life, or the cunning dead con man with a moral to impart? How was Jimbo ever going to get himself raised if everyone in the graveyard was just going to keep on deliberately decomposing?
I tried sneaking around the place and provoking the lazy, good for nothing haunts, digging down to the coffins in several cases and screaming into the dirt, but all I accomplished was a ruined pair of trousers and an even more traumatized Jimbo, who foolishly continued to jump at the slightest of blood-curdling noises. Even dragging out the desiccated remains of a likely-looking father figure and leaving them where he could stumble across them did nothing to jump-start the mentoring process.
I hid behind the monument to Major Gen. Argus Defestrum (1879-1947) and read the rest of the book in the hopes that I had merely missed an important step. No such luck. An excellent story, to be sure, but it was obviously predicated on more civic-minded corpses than the ones I had to hand.
However, in the additional background material helpfully supplied by the publisher I found an interview where Gaiman explained that he intended “The Graveyard Book” to be an homage to Rudyard Kipling’s classic work “The Jungle Book.” That brought up nasty memories of my previous, equally disastrous attempt at raising a child with surrogate wolf parents (a niece, Mindy, who recovered from my impromptu social engineering with aplomb and a recurring tendency to howl). Perhaps similar drawbacks awaited my efforts?
No! I couldn’t stop now, not when the increasingly filthy Jimbo had such a glittering, death-filled life ahead of him! He would be raised by ghosts if I had to do it myself.
His tether only allowed him so much freedom – I had assumed that his new step-wraiths would unhook him – so it was a simple matter to secret myself behind a tomb and moan lessons at him. “OoooOOoooh, Jimbooooo,” I intoned, quite well if I do say so myself. “Weeeee’re gOOOOoooooing toooo beeeeegin with bAAAAAsic aaaaarIIIthmatic!”
Unfortunately I had forgotten to keep track of the time, or Jimbo’s parents, and my attempts at spectral child-rearing were abruptly ended with those familiar, hated words: “There he is, officer.”
I have since been unable to see Jimbo to determine if I had any effect on his intellectual development, but I like to believe I helped him for the better. By the time he was placed in the ambulance he had very nearly stopped twitching.
“The Graveyard Book,” by Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended, if completely unworkable.