Tuesday, July 24

Fat Men From Space


by Daniel Pinkwater
Dodd Mead 1977; Yearling Revised edition 1980

On the perpetual eve of my pending holiday abroad I find myself a little too distracted to maintain my blogging duties. To be honest, I tend to spaz out a bit before trips which, my wife can attest, makes me a bit of a pain.

But amid my chaos an old reading journal has come to the rescue! A re-purposed page-a-day diary served as my notebook of choice for recording my kidlit reading a few years back, inaugurated with this title which was a re-read from fifteen years earlier. What follows is my original "review" to myself from 2002.

A boy's newly installed tooth filling is a radio that can pick up the frequency of alien spaceships poised to attack the Earth. The fat men from space have come to eat all the Earth's fattening junk food and intend to enslave Earthlings to constantly feed them. Held captive aboard the alien's "spaceburger" the boy is only a witness, but all ends well as the alien's attention is diverted to a giant potato pancake in space, leaving Earth with nothing but healthy food to eat and the warning that junk food will attract sinister aliens.

Funny, reading that now, how much I seemed to be aware of summarizing for an audience and not so much writing openly about what I think. Sure, there's the note at the bottom that read "badly, charmingly illustrated by the author" but where's the surliness, where are my teeth?

Ah, but that's just it you see. I can't bite this book because it was Fat Men From Space that brought my adult self back to children's books. This book cracked open a door (that was later blown wide by Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat) that brought me to where I am today. Sort of. It's a long story and not worth delving into right now. The point is that in a way it was my first kid-book-as-an-adult and you always remember your firsts with a certain nostalgic glow. even in the rereading I don't remember feeling any less enchanted.

Naturally I stalked the wild Pinkwater after this and discovered what may turn out to be a Rosetta Stone for setting my gears to grind, which was Young Adult Novel. Pinkwater the writer (as opposed to Pinkwater the dog breeder or Pinkwater the NPR commentator) has a very sly way of dishing up simple morality plays with a healthy mix of Zen and Dada-ist art influences. I do not believe for a moment that this combination is glibly applied because when you look at the careful way he turns his stories onto their sides you can see the ribbons of oft-told stories of outsiders and conformity that he's woven into a whole new cloth. He's not a genius, he's a Zen master. If you are open to it he'll whack upside the back of your head, but even if you are closed to the lessons in his temple you can still enjoy them for what they appear to be on the surface: silly stories with strange characters and unusual lessons.
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