Friday, July 11, 2008
A Parody For Adults?
I had a difficult time getting into The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry. I definitely appreciated what she was doing--a parody of late nineteenth/early twentieth century children's books--but it seemed very self-conscious. I was aware of all the very clever and amusing bits, but I didn't enter a "world of the book," as you might say. I was just beginning to feel the pull of the story when I came upon an extremely funny Heidi joke, which occurs on the next to the last page of the last chapter. It was just at that point that I started to look forward to what might come next. All that came next was an epilogue and a very funny glossary made up of all the vocabulary from the book that I'd been wondering if kids would understand.
A commenter on one of my listservs noted that the Willoughby children--four siblings who hope to become orphans and whose neglectful parents hope to be rid of them--don't do a lot about their situation. Most of the action occurs because of the intervention of adult characters. I think that was a very good observation. Adult intervention may be a convention of the older books that Lowry is satirizing, but I don't know if passive child characters make for a particularly readable book for early twenty-first century children.
In fact, things were just beginning to happen when I started getting interested. A child character had done something, and the big joke involved the kids doing something more. But they never get a chance to do it because the story is done.
Older kids who've either done a lot of reading or have wicked, dark senses of humor may enjoy a story about children who get down every time they receive a letter from abroad indicating the parental units are still alive and kicking. But I wonder if this book won't end up being a curiousity best appreciated by adult readers well-versed in older children's literature.
You can check out an interview with Lois Lowry about The Willoughbys at the NPR site. (Miss Rumphius tipped me off to that link.)