Thursday, July 11, 2013
Review - The Amazing Pitsville and the Beggar's Invisible Railways by Gabe Redel
Short review: McGavin jumps through the clouds to a strange place named Pitsville that is full of strange people. He makes friends, gets married, and returns to our world. Then he goes back to Pitsville, tangles with a wrestling king, has Pitsville stolen from him, and wins it back.
Leads to a magical world
And getting married
Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.
Full review: The Amazing Pitsville and the Beggar's Invisible Railways is a difficult book to evaluate, because it is so very different from most other books. This is both good, in that the book has a very original feel, and bad, in that at many points the story seems to consist of the author just throwing whatever off the wall serendipitous plot device is needed to move the protagonists along. The closest comparison I can think of would be a book like Norman Juster's Phantom Tollbooth, or possibly Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, but in those books the allegorical points being made by the authors are relatively apparent, while in The Amazing Pitsville, they were often incomprehensible, although still usually entertaining.
The story opens with the main character, a rather arrogant young man named McGavin, off with his friends at a cloud skiing resort. Cloud skiing is the practice of skiing on clouds, which is an indication that the story is a little off the wall. McGavin and his collection of accomplices spend their time eating cheeseburgers and making ski runs until McGavin notices that some professional cloud skiers have been using a particularly dangerous jump that is normally off limits, and decides he has to try the jump too despite an impending storm. After recruiting one of his friends to join him, he makes the run, ditches his friend on the slope, and leaps directly into the oncoming thunderhead. And then McGavin finds himself in a completely different place that he comes to know as Pitsville.
From here, the story becomes odder and odder. He tries to climb out of the hole he finds himself in and is menaced by a ferocious beast. Dissuaded, he wanders into the forest and finds a weeping butterfly who is sad because she doesn't have a husband, and then comes across a farmer perpetually plowing a field that never stays plowed. Hitching a ride to town with the farmer, McGavin finds himself in a store in which a dirty boy tells him he has to buy something but nothing is for sale. Eventually McGavin finds himself in an invisible house owned by a burly and humble lumberjack and courting a pretty lost girl named Sonia. McGavin marries Sonia, and they all settle down in Pitsville.
The book meanders from there, seeming more like a collection of linked short stories than a single coherent plot. Eventually McGavin and Sonia wind up back in the "regular world", and then they move around a bit, find themselves shunned by McGavin's former friends, then accepted by them, survive a fire, and then wind up back in Pitsville. Just about everyone in Pitsville gets together and forms a theater company, and everything goes swimmingly until the jealous King Dill of a neighboring kingdom sends his dragon to bring them back to his castle. Dill imprisons them, wants to wrestle, and then assembles his army of motorcyclists wearing Greek helmets to attack Pitsville.
About halfway through the book McGavin, Sonia, and a few of their friends find themselves in Pitsville again and the villain of the story finally makes his appearance in the form a Kemp the Beggar, a being that gains power over his victims when they give him what he asks for. The Beggar is using hidden extradimensional passages to move about the world to take things away from people and threaten the very existence of Pitsville. McGavin and his companions, of course, set out to stop the Beggar, along the way recruiting an apathetic dog named Beagley and a soldier named Pops who can't seem to remember anything. This leads to a convoluted story line that involves the beast that kept McGavin in Pitsville at the beginning of the story plus its offspring and eventually results in convincing the population of an entire valley to jump into a volcano.
If this doesn't seem to make much sense, that's because it more or less doesn't except in the context of the off-kilter world that Redel has constructed for his characters to live in. The trouble is that I am certain that most of the characters and events in the story are meant to have allegoric, symbolic, or metaphoric significance, but for the most part I simply had no idea what that might have been. I am also reasonably certain the the story was supposed to be something of a bildungsroman for McGavin, but I simply didn't much in the way of character development for him in the story. McGavin started the story with those around him seeing him as a bossy, thoughtless, and somewhat arrogant character, and ended the story with those around him talking about how he had developed into a a considerate and capable leader, but I didn't really see anything in McGavin himself that would support those assessments. I suspect that the problem is that there was simply not enough time spent establishing the "unfixed" version of McGavin for me to be able to read the rest of the story and say, "Old McGavin would have done this, but new McGavin has done that instead". This element of the story probably would have worked better had we gotten to see McGavin in his "old life" for more than a single chapter before he was whisked away on his voyage of self-discovery.
So what can one say about a story that was enjoyable but which you are reasonably certain contained heaping helpings of allegorical symbolism that you are reasonably certain you missed most of? As I said, I enjoyed the book, complete with all of its zany and off-the-wall characters and improbable plot points, but on the other hand, I always felt like I was missing some understanding that I should have been getting. I am not certain if I am simply not observant enough to comprehend what was intended, or if the references and symbols were simply too opaque, but either way what I got out of The Amazing Pitsville was a silly and convoluted story that was a diverting and imaginative fantasy, but not anything more than that.
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