Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Getting Into The Moment

I am not a fan of stories about eccentric southern families. In the great northwoods that I hail from, familial eccentricity usually involves serious personal debt, vulgarity, willingness--no, desire--to voice ignorant opinions, and a little substance abuse of one sort or another. Twee tales of flighty aunts and cornpone, but wise, elders really grate on me.

But The Vacation by Polly Horvath is a southern eccentric story I was able to tolerate very well.

A lot of southern eccentric kids' books are sort of loosie goosie about the time setting. It's as if the authors, themselves, can't believe this kind of stuff can be going on in the here-and-now, so they try to create a Never-Never Land somewhere between the late forties and 1968. Horvath, however, plants her story squarely in today. Her characters use cell phones and computers, and the aunts are businesswomen.

The aunts also have little in the way of wisdom to impart to their nephew, Henry, The Vacation's narrator. They keep him alive and fed and, for the most part, sheltered, but that's about it. There's not a whole lot of love lost between the maiden aunts and their sister's child.

How refreshing.

And then there is Henry, himself, who is very much like a twelve-year-old Garrison Keillor. Not everyone likes Garrison Keillor. I, however, do.

The Vacation is a very enjoyable read, at least for an adult. But I think that, like Criss Cross, in order to really enjoy The Vacation, you have to come on a little Zenny. You have to just enjoy what you're reading as you're reading it and forget about what it has to do with a storyline. You have to get into the moment. In fact, Horvath almost tells us as much in her last couple of pages.

Some of Henry's vacation adventures with his aunts don't seem to have the substance Horvath seems to think they do. The section on visiting the family who all retire to their separate rooms and don't interact with one another wasn't all that shocking or unusual. Look around. People are doing that all the time now. On the other hand, the section where they run over the cat and eat dinner with its owners who then tell them a story about how their horse was murdered...well, that alone was almost worth reading the entire book.

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