Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What we're reading: A fairy tale tale

In Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal, Jeremy Johnson Johnson (no, that's not a typo, both his parents were named Johnson, so he got double) is the main character, but the story is not told by him. The behind-the-scenes narrator is Jacob Grimm--one of the famous Brothers Grimm who compiled all the fairy tales--and he's a ghost. He died, but he didn't move on, and at some point he discovered that there were certain people in the world who could hear him when he spoke to them, Jeremy being one of these.

Jeremy isn't going to win any popularity contests. The fact that he goes around putting his finger to his head like he's getting ready for a Vulcan mind meld and then blurting out odd pronouncements--knowing facts he shouldn't know, speaking languages he has never learned--doesn't exactly endear him to the other kids in his tiny village of Never Better. Add to that a mother who deserted the family, a father who is a recluse, and a family business called the Two Book Bookstore whose only inventory is Jeremy's grandfather's two-volume autobiography, and you can see that Jeremy is doomed to being the odd kid in town.

Also, Jacob Grimm believes that there is a particular doom waiting for Jeremy--that there is someone in his life masquerading as a regular person who is actually the sinister "Finder of Occasions," out to do him harm. That's why Jacob is here--to protect Jeremy. But Jeremy has a positive attitude and a good work ethic, and when the tale opens, he's doing just fine. Then, of course, he meets a girl and, as often happens when romance enters into things, events are set into motion so far beyond what you would expect that it carries us far into the fairy tale realm.

This was a weird little book, but I loved it. It's set in the modern day, and yet has all the trappings and sensibilities of the dark world described by the Brothers Grimm, and the contrasts are so strange that it works. It's not a book for everyone, but some will really like it. Also, both the writing and the storytelling are well done--someone besides me thought so, because the book was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Edgar Award. See what YOU think.

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