Review of the Day: Out of Patience
When I review a children's book, I have a highly sophisticated system of keeping track of a book's funny passages and interesting moments. I take tiny pieces of paper and stick them between the pages. By and large, this is a good system and one that, until now, worked for me. That is, until I came across Brian Meehl's, "Out of Patience". By the time I reached page 50, there were already 15 tiny pieces of paper sticking out of the book. As indications of quality go, I can't think of any better sign than a book that resembles nothing so much as host to a million tiny paper bookmarks. Meehl has a talent and a sense of humor that hoists him heads and tails above the competition. Unfortunately, while his book has a brilliant conceit, fabulous characters, and the zing of small-town credibility (i.e. he knows what it's like to live in one), he's better on set-up than on pay-off. Nevertheless, reading "Out of Patience" is a joy. I don't think I've enjoyed reading a book as much as I enjoyed this one in a long long time.
It's good for kids to have dreams, right? Well Jake has one but it's a secret. Jake dreams of someday leaving the town of Patience as soon as he is able to do so. He can't tell this to his dad, though. Mr. Waters, the town's plumber, is too involved in the idea of creating the ATM - American Toilet Museum. He's been collecting toilet memorabilia for years now and in his quest he's gone and done something that leaves his son speechless in horror. He purchased the Plunger of Destiny on eBay. According to the town curse, the final destruction of Patience, Kansas will occur when the Plunger of Destiny returns to the tiny dying town. Now that event has occurred and Jake is fully convinced that the curse is in full swing. He's going to have to become, "a detective on curse patrol", keeping a watchful and vigilant eye for anything that might indicate the final destruction's form. Unfortunately, it may be too late to do anything at all.
People have been comparing this book to Louis Sacher's, "Holes", and they've got their reasons for doing so. Both books involve family curses and buried treasure. Both authors know how to make something funny. I mean guffawing on the subway funny and not the tittering behind your hand in the salon variety. But while Sacher may lead in the storytelling department, Meehl wins in the One Liner and Bon Mots category. It's really Meehl's writing that makes the whole book worthy of reading aloud to anyone and everyone you know. For example, when Jake wants to know if his father's girlfriend is leaving them he knows that, "Asking her a direct question was like doing a search on Wanda.com and getting a dozen pop-ups". When something inexplicable occurs in nature it's, "for reasons only scientists who have yet to be born will someday understand". The phrase for someone who's a bit loopy? "A half-bubble off plumb". The term for reading a lot? "Butt travel". And someone who's lived in Kansas might acquire "prairie eyes". "Prairie eyes see two things at once. They see the ground at your feet, which delivers the fruits of labor. And they see the distant horizon, which delivers the destructive acts of God. Prairie eyes are quiet, neutral, ready for whatever the ground or the horizon delivers".
I would love to know where Meehl collected all his information. From prairie eyes (is this a true term or did he make it up?) to toilet facts (is the portion on the prince who wanted to be a plumber true?) to weird and wacky Kansas info (definitely all true), I was kind of hoping for a Bibliography at the end. Maybe it would have been a bathroom bibliography, but that's okay. It still could of been cool. At the same time, I think that Meehl should copyright his rules for playing baseball with just eight players. They make sense in an odd way, but they're also so beautifully convoluted that by the time to you get to, "5) Committing an error costs players 12 years old and older 1 point. Players under 12 are not penalized for an error", you'd do anything to view a game of this nature first-hand.
And I adored the characters! Jake's best female friend is Cricket, a daughter of Pakistani parents who run the local motel. She's been memorizing weird and wacky facts about Kansas or Patience corresponding with years between `00 and `99. Say a number near her like 8 and you might end up hearing something along the lines of, "In 1908, the Kansas legislature passed a law against eating snakes in public". And there's Jake's best male friend Howie. Howie's a good natured sort, but he's the kind of fellow who would hold onto, "a secret about as long as a dog holds on to a tossed slice of lemon". This turns out to be particularly problematic later on in the tale. Of course, it was kind of an odd choice making the book's villain an employee of the EPA. Meehl makes it somewhat clear that this villain has a personal vendetta and isn't representative of the Environmental Protection Agency proper (they even repave the town's streets), but it's tricky territory. Frankly, I think the book didn't need to bother with a contemporary villain when the fellow who cast the curse in the first place was fulfilled all the requisite bad guy duties.
Which sort of brings up my problems with the book. This hurts to do, cause I feel a great affection for "Out of Patience". Plucking any portion of it apart from the rest and criticizing it just makes me feel all kinds of crummy. That said, I think there may have just have been a smidgen too much... um... potty humor (for lack of a better phrase) in this story. When a story involves a town getting covered in biological muck (wink wink) then you've kinda pushed me too far. "Out of Patience" is certainly not for the squeamish. If you're not into poop in all its glorious wondrous forms then keep this book at arm's length. Then again, it certainly will teach a heckuva lot of kids about nitrates. The other problem with this title involves its ending. The first three fourths of "Out of Patience" is strong. It doesn't quite know what it wants, but it's a wonderful ride. Then the last fourth kind of falls apart. Not too terribly. I understood how (a) led to (b) led to (c). But the villain seemed forced and the climax came way too early. It's not a terribly objectionable series of events, but they seemed a little too convenient at times. That's just me, though. You might have an entirely different take.
In spite of how you view the book's success, I think we can all agree on one thing. It's hee-larious. Funniest darn thing I've read all year, no question. Kids will adore it and adults will turn up their noses at the bathroom jokes while secretly succumbing to its charms. I have great faith that Meehl will bring us even more brilliant fare in the future. In the meantime I will wait for that fare to surface.