11 April 2007

Rookie Author

Adam Gopnik’s essay “The Rookie,” originally published in The New Yorker and reprinted in his 2003 book Paris to the Moon, is one of the finest essays ever written about the appeal of fantasy for children, and the power of storytelling for adults.

So when I learned that Gopnik had jumped onto the children's fantasy bandwagon with The King in the Window, I figured I should read it. As usual, I didn't get to the book until considerably after it was published, but now I'm pushing through. And it is a push.

Gopnik pulls details and plot twists out of the air when they become useful, which means they accumulate like cat hair. I counted eighteen short flashbacks in the first chapter (though, technically, half of those are flashbacks within a flashback). Young protagonist Oliver's behavior seems to be consistent with his character only when that won't interfere with what he must do to bring on Gopnik's next scene.

But finally, at page 134, Psmith shows up. Okay, he's not calling himself Psmith. He's calling himself Charlie Gronek of Allendale, New Jersey, and his fashion sense has changed greatly; he dresses as a skater boy with digital gadgets stuffed in every pocket. But I can recognize an old friend as soon as he opens his mouth--at this particular moment, opening it to explain the word supportive:

"It's--uh--it's an American word that means, sort of, you may be nuts but you have a right to be nuts in your own way. Hey, I like your thinking on this, Ollie. We had to do something like it for credit in symbolic archetype class--that's what they used to call English, but Randi decided to change it. Now we do archetypal symbolic analysis. I mean, we each had to create our own myth, and draw our own mandala and everything. And then we had to, like, analyze everybody's archetypes. Personally, I'm thinking of becoming a Buddhist. They worship lettuce."
Compare and contrast.

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