Fuse #8

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Review of the Day: The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs

I should probably save this review for Halloween or something. Unfortunately the publisher has pushed it out onto the market now, so now is when I will review it. Creepy stuff, though. Creepy indeed.

Blurb writers. No one ever gives enough credit to blurb writers. These are the people who day in and day out have to come up with some kind of summary for books that sometimes defy description. And never have I felt the plight of poor blurb writers so keenly than after finishing Jack Gantos’ searing, “The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs”. Are you familiar with the works of Jack Gantos? Because before I attempt to do what some poor schlub of a blurb writer did before me, I need to tell you a little bit about this guy. You see, Gantos is primarily a writer of children’s books. He’s best known, perhaps, for the “Joey Pigza” series. These are a sympathetic group of stories about Joey, a boy with severe ADHD, and are the best of their kind out there. Gantos also wrote a memoir of his time in prison entitled, “Hole In My Life” for teens and some fictionalized memoirs of his life known simply as the “Jack” series. Pretty standard stuff. Maybe I should have known he was capable of more when I read his picture book series, the “Rotten Ralph” books. That series revels in naughty behavior and a cat who just can’t be anything but bad. Gantos has always delighted in riling up folks one way or another, but I never NEVER would have thought him capable of something so deeply disturbing and yet creepily caring as this, “Rumbaughs” book. Part “Psycho” part “Oedipus” and part “Manchurian Candidate” (did you spot what these all had in common?) Gantos has created a book that wins my personal award of Most-Likely-Young-Adult-Title-To-Get-Banned-At-Some-Point. I don’t support banning, obviously. But for those that do, this book’s gonna grab their attention like nothing else!

Ivy loves her mother. No, you don’t understand. She really really REALLY loves her mother. At the age of seven, however, this is not so bizarre. All seven-year-olds, boys and girls alike, love their moms. Ivy and her mom live in a small town and are good friends with a pair of socially inept but likable old male twins. The Rumbaugh boys have known Ivy ever since she was a wee tyke and she’s spent countless hours playing in their pharmacy and making little play areas in their basement. On a rather creepy Easter, however, Ivy stumbles across the boys’ secret. Like her, they loved their mother once too. Really really REALLY loved their mother. Loved her so much, in fact, that they used their ever useful taxidermy skills to preserve her for all time in their basement. When Ivy stumbles on the deceased but still rather lively Mrs. Rumbaugh it sparks something in her. Suddenly she wants to learn taxidermy too. She starts fearing that her mother may die someday. And then her mom reveals a terrible secret. Ivy is related to the Rumbaughs and has obviously inherited their love curse. A curse so disturbing that fight against though she may, she’ll never be able to extricate herself from a love that will control her whole life.

When people ask what I’m reading and I try to describe the plot of “Rumbaughs” to them the reaction is always the same. I tell them about Ivy’s unwholesome love for her mama and their faces screw up. I mention the taxidermied mother and they take a step back. About the time I start hinting that Ivy may wish to follow in the footsteps of the twins my audience has high-tailed it out the door and doesn’t want to hear another word. I can’t blame them. It doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? So here’s the kicker. Gantos has never been more compelling. As an author he’s walking a very thin line here. The love that Ivy feels for her mother is overwhelming and makes you instinctively shudder and draw back. At the same time, it’s not a sexual love or anything aside from what a girl would feel for her mom. It’s just more so and to a disturbing level. The fact that Gantos wrote this book in such a way as to make you WANT to learn more is a credit to his writing skills. It’s obvious that he’s penned this low-key horror tome in such a way as to simultaneously attract and repel the reader. You want to know more but you cringe at every odd thing Ivy does. About the time she gets the tattoo on her breast that reads, “Mother – Eternal Love” you’ve pretty much given her up for lost. But you keep reading. Is that sick? Is it wrong? Whatever it is, you just can’t look away.

Oh I can already hear the complaints that’ll be lobbed against “Rumbaughs”. I haven’t even mentioned the moment of Ivy’s conception, her final plans for her mother, or her desire to carry on the curse in a scene that flirts with the incestuous. But it’s definitely a teen novel at heart. A teen novel for those kids who enjoy some psychological twistiness, but a teen novel all the same. I would love to know what dark recess of Gantos’s mind this book crawled out of. I don’t want to give the impression, by the way, that this book is all sawdust-filled mommies all the time. There’s a great deal of discussion of the nature of free will, how your genetics shape who you are, and nature vs. nurture. None of the answers to these questions come across as very heartening, but at least they’re probed a little. The book will make for only the hottest of YA book discussions. There’s even a small history of eugenics and its flaws included for that historical little zing of fact. All in all, I was deeply disturbed by this book in the best way possible. It is NOT for everyone. Don’t think its shiny silver cover would make it an ideal gift for that five-year-old niece of yours. But for the moody kid, the kid who likes to read freaky stuff, and the kid who likes books that make you think a little, “Rumbaughs” may be just the answer they’re looking for. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


At 6:33 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the Gantos books I've read seem to have something very dark lurking just below. I mean, consider some of the more extreme scenes/circumstances in the Joey Pigza books and the Jack books; not to mention some (um...lightbulb?...) in "Hole in my Life." Sorry, but it is not standard stuff to me!

Haven't read this one yet, but it sounds a bit like one of those creepy movies like Pyscho or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I never saw the latter, but as a kid the ads (broken doll faces) gave me nightmares.

Guess I'll need to read this new Gantos and see!


At 11:28 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Guess so. I'm a fan of "Baby Jane" myself, so maybe that's why I didn't pan this book. I did try to warn off those folks who might find something fearsome in it. But I really liked it too. It's an odd mix of elements. And I should reread, "Hole In My Life" when I get a chance.


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