3 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
I take after my father in that I love to people-watch. I can spend literally hours at the mall, looking at people and making up stories about what is going on with them, especially if they're interacting with others. It is to my great joy - or horror; I'm not sure yet - that author Matthew C. Woodruff does something similar, resulting in one of my favorite reads ever. In his book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, Mr. Woodruff uses one particular work of Edward Gorey - who very nearly lived up to his last name, minus the 'e' - and goes a little beyond the former's work, writing a book that's a little more borderline gory. The original tome, Gashlycrumb Tinies, is a short picture-book that illustrates the untimely deaths of 26 young people, each youngster's first name beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. For instance, the first picture tells us that "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs." In his mystifying short story book, Matthew elaborates on that brief sentence and continues to do so all the way from 'A' to 'Z'.
Being the morbid person that I am, I couldn't grab up my review copy fast enough after I read the synopsis, and I'm pretty glad that I did. I think it was a true work of artistry for the author to take 26 itty-bitty yarns and spin them into one spectacular, albeit grim, multicolored blanket with which to cover oneself on a cold night. From Amy's stumble down the steps to Zillian's death by gin, I couldn't read these tales fast enough, and now I am greatly saddened that it has all ended.
Unfortunately, this book was missing the drawings that inspired the tales, causing me to have to find an e-book of the original work so I could look at each picture for reference when I would have much preferred that each illustration come before the relevant tale. I suspect that the author was unable to use the original art due to copyright concerns, but it still took away from the overall experience.
I will also take a moment to note that most of the children in these tales are older children, from about 8-years-old, to early teens, aging up to maybe 14-years-old. As such, Mr. Woodruff handles their actual deaths rather gently, not aiming to overly traumatize the reader. I personally could have handled much worse (and was slightly disappointed that they weren't more gruesome), but I understand the author's reticence to go too far. Also, over half of the perishing scenes were intimated rather than blatantly drawn out, so a concerned reader could imagine that the child didn't suffer much at the end. One will be glad to know that perhaps 98% of the content of the tales was the lead-up with the final 2% being the actual denouement. To me, ironically, this is what really made the tales come alive. With every story, I was astonished as to how the author could take one little line and make a full-fledged, sometimes intricate, tale from it. Amazingly, I found myself laughing almost as frequently as I sobbed, which is really saying something about Mr. Woodruff's genius. For those who are still aghast about the basis for this book, I will include this quote from Edward Gorey himself, which I found in a Wikipedia article on his book:
Better now?The morbid humor of the book comes in part from the mundane ways in which children die, such as falling down the stairs or choking on a peach. Far from illustrating the dramatic and fantastical childhood nightmares, these scenarios instead poke fun at the banal paranoias that come as a part of parenting.
With that being said, I'd like to note that my favorite stories were the ones that made me sigh with sadness at the end, due to the extreme likableness of the highlighted child. These children - also the names of the relevant yarns - would include the aforementioned Amy, Desmond, Titus, Winnie, and Xerxes. Leo and Olive's stories, in particular, had me shaking my head with the madness of them.
I was quite impressed with the author's apparent knowledge as well. From his awareness of Lakka and the proper preparation of Lutefisk to the details of ice-fishing to the workings on a Fluyt, he flavored each tale with realism and made me a believer. Best of all, though, was that all of these stores were told so casually, as if Mr. Woodruff was sitting in his rocker with a corncob pipe in his mouth, telling these macabre tales to his astounded audience.
Unfortunately, the author's casualness also extended to the grammar. There were many punctuation mistakes, including extra or missing commas, misplaced or missing quotation marks, and errant apostrophes. There were also any number of misused words - "less" instead of "lest", "it's" when it should be "its", "anyone" in place of the correct "any one", and my personal pet peeve, "should of" rather than the correct "should have". Additionally, this tome contained many many fragments rather than proper sentences. Worst of all, though, were the extra spaces between the end of one sentence and the start of another; I even counted at least three instances of 3 spaces!
If not for the typographical errors, I'd request a special exception to give 5 stars, but alas, I must give 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions 3 out of 4 stars. Since this book is not for the faint of heart, I instead recommend it to readers who enjoy sarcasm and satire mixed with dark humor. It may also appeal to fans of macabre short stories or abecedarian books. Despite children being the protagonists, it is definitely not a story for the young either. If you're the parent of young children, I leave it up to you to decide if you can handle such readings without becoming inordinately concerned about your offspring's well-being; I know how easy it is to see everything as a potential danger.
26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like MsTri's review? Post a comment saying so!