Daniel Pinkwater’s The Snarkout Boys And The Baconburg Horror

Posted: May 9, 2009 in alternating narratives, children's and young adult literature, Daniel Pinkwater, more than four narratives

Pinkwater, Daniel. The Snarkout Boys And The Baconburg Horror.  New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1984.

This book represents an interesting anomaly.  It’s a sequel to The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, in which Walter Galt tells of the supposedly wacky events of life while sneaking out at night to go to movies.  But the sequel to the first person narration is a multi-focalized novel.  Walter tells part of the story.  But in addition, there are sections (in a different font) in the first person voice of a mysterious someone who’s a vampire, sections in which a third person omniscient narrator follows events in the life of a different character, Walter’s friend Rat, and also does some other omniscient narrating about other characters, increasingly so toward the end–and also, there are transcripts of TV news reports, of a sort of filmscript version in the present tense of a city council meeting, of various letters from officials to officials, and so on.  And within some of these texts are transcripts of others, including some deliberately bad beatnik poems.

Both books are celebrations of the carnivalesque, I guess, in the Bakhtin way–a love of certain kinds of excessive freakishness that expresses itself in terms both of the funny and relatively harmless eccentricities of the central characters and in the world around them–various people with weird habits or tics or names or jobs or collections,  midnight gatherings to hear random speeches amongst strange outsiders, strange combinaitons of food, and so on.  But neither novel really represents an escape from repression into the carnivalesque, since the characters and their names and their interests are carnivalesque already.  The novels as a whole are carnivalesque escapes for readers, then, in which already carnival-like characters move away form their norms into more excessive versions of the carnival–but always in a lighthearted sort of way, a diluted for of absurdism.  the wohle world is a sort of carnival-lite.

So in any case, what happens when you repeat the same characters in quite similar situations, but change the ways in which you organize and focalize the story?  What’s with the alternating narratives?

Not much, really.   There’s nothing particularly surprising here, in spite of the greater chaos and carnival and disorder and multivocalizing of the sequel.  The difference is just that now the form seems to echo the content, and thus to offer a more visibly and readerly obvious celebration of random anarchy.

And yet, hidden in all that is something very conservative–perhaps just the pull of children’s literature as a genre, a sense that writing for young people needs more order than anarchy even when it presumably celebrates anarchy?  All of the sections in Baconburg Horror representing differing narrative points of view are carefully organized and sequenced, so that if one suggests something might be impossible, the very first sentence in the next one describer the supposedly impossible thing happening: a sort of joke that emerges from the juxtaposition of two different points of view as one narrative undermines the preceding one, but making the joke establishes  the very careful controlling force of the novelist organizing all these merely apparently random materials.  You can freel safe aobut the anarchy here.

It finally becomes clear that all the differing points of view are in fact, in aid of one central plot line–the mystery being unfolded.  Unlike many other multi-focalized books, this is not really about how people do or don’t interconnect in a communal whole.  It’s not really obviously or consciously thematic at all.  There’s a suggestion of interest in the ways in which apparently random events and differing isolates do in fact come together in an interconnected whole story–but that’s perhaps inevitable in the context of a mystery being solved.  Beyond that,not so much.

All in all, then, this is very safe wackiness–not much like the violence and actual anarchy of Harpo and Groucho or the Three Stooges or even the characters in Waiting for Godot.  For all the silly jokes and threats, it all seems kind of harmless–the ingenious chaos of imaginative play, perhaps, but play inside the safe confines of an adult-policed playground, play that imitate anarchy in less anrchic forms.  Once more as so often in literature for young people, the doors open on innovation and danger, and then quickly spring back shut again, in very instructive ways.

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