Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

You getting this all right, son, or am I goin' too fast for ya? Oops. Wrong character. That's hard-boiled detective Sam Spade. Thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket would say, This was nonsense, of course. but there's nothing wrong with occasionally staring out the window and thinking nonsense, as long as the nonsense is yours, which pretty much sums up this twisty tale. There's the nonsense of the mystery. There's the nonsense of the word definitions. There's the nonsense of the town with its missing ocean. There's the nonsensical adults. And while Sam Spade isn't in the novel, there is one character by the name of Dashiell, a femme fatale, and roadster, in this hilarious parody of noir detective fiction.

Prepare to parachute into this plot with a duffel bag full of questions and little answers. It's hard to tell what's going on at the start of the novel. Lemony is supposed to take the train to meet someone in the city. He's at a cafe with his parents, when a woman drops a note in his lap to meet him; he jumps out a bathroom window where he's left a ladder for himself (which makes no sense). The couple in the cafe are not Lemony's parents; laudanum was put in his tea because the so-called parents were going to do something to him but I have no idea what it is. Are you confused yet? As the story progresses I don't feel quite as lost or I'm adjusting to the odd plot progression, but I have to say the writing is so funny I wasn't really bothered by all the nonsensical who, what, when, where, and whys.

Lemony is an apprentice to a secret organization (I never found out what that was) and his boss S. Theodora Markson makes it clear that she is in charge and he is to do everything he asks. Lemony asks what the "S" stands for but she answers that he's asking the wrong question. (Stupid, is my guess.) The two have a job to do which is collect a missing statue in the town, Stain'd-by-the-Sea, which was once on the sea but no longer is - I have no recollection of why, so it must not be important to the plot (or I'm an idget). The plot changes so many times it reminds me of when I have to unknot my jewelry after traveling 22 hours from Taipei to Minneapolis. You'd think I'd learn to not throw it all in one plastic bag... Anyway, you won't know what is going to happen next and the unpredictability made it a page turner.

So many children's books have characters that give word definitions in an effort to aid young readers; however, it is done so much I somewhat dread coming across it. This author parodies this writing technique with nonstop over-the-top word definitions that pokes fun by having the characters do it so much I found myself laughing versus being annoyed. Take the interchange between Ms. Feint, the femme fatale, and Mr. Snicket:
   We can rescue him without kowtowing to a villain like Hangfire.
   What does 'kowtowing' mean?
   To behave in an obsequious manner. 
   I could play this game all night, Mr. Snicket. What does 'obsequious' mean?
See what I mean? Nonstop nonsense.

Then there's the walk down literature lane. Two boys named, Pip and Squeak, drive a taxi (Squeak pushes the pedals and Pip handles the steering), and Lemony pays them in tips by recommending books. How can you not love that! There are constant references to books, films, and other media. No one can possible know them all. I had fun guessing some, such as the character in Johnny Tremain, author Roald Dahl, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I was disappointed in the ending that resolves nothing. If anything, I had more questions than throughout the entire book. I can just picture the author going, Har-Har-Har, gotcha! Okay, so maybe an English guy wouldn't sound like that... instead he'd yell, Stop asking the wrong questions! Ask a few more! A fun read.

Reading Level 5.6
4 out of 5 Smileys

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