Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy - Day 2

As mentioned in my post about reaching the end of The Wilderking Trilogy in the weekly Story Time at the Boys & Girls Club where I work, Jonathan Rogers' work is excellent read-out-loud material. And the kids there -- especially middle-grade and junior high listeners -- connected with the stories so much that they acted out the scenes with me, joined the yodeling, and even cried once I read that last sentence of the The Way of the Wilderking.

And I already have plans to make The Charlatan's Boy our next project, which should be good news to the kids who last year really enjoyed meeting all the feechies and civilizers in the original three Corenwald books.

In addition to the rich story and the action, the read-out-loud-ability of the novels comes from the vernacular in which many of the characters speak, reminiscent of the American South, though with some phrases and words that I've encountered nowhere else: civilizer, for instance.

When I read The Charlatan's Boy, I "heard" Uncle Brascal (rhymes with "rascal", and very apt) or Grandpa or Uncle Roger (who wasn't even born in the South) or Uncle Doyle, even Dad, with their Arkansas accents and dry delivery of punchlines, albeit with a twinkle in their eyes, though they were just as apt to laugh before reaching the end of the story. Not gentle laughter, but knee-slapping, foot-stomping, lean forward in the chair, all over the body, tear-crying kind of laughter. So, for me, reading Rogers' work is almost like sitting in the family tall-tale circle on the porch and hearing someone conjure a fable on the spot or embellish a well-known "true" story.

Just as each of the family storytellers had his own style and voice, Rogers imbues his characters with distinctive characteristics: for instance, Short Fronie is warm, snappish, energetic, and caring; Grady is earthy, deep, honest, and a real boy (no relation to Pinocchio); Floyd is flamboyant, creative, dishonest, and abusive.

Rabbit trail: Ever notice how hard con-men and hucksters work in their efforts to make a dishonest living? Intelligent individuals will go out of their way and misuse their minds in order to scalp money from honest folks. It just plain boggles me.

Okay, back to the main path.

Here's an excerpt that has a tall-tale quality:
"You've seen miners. Miners is a heap uglier than farmers. I got a bad feeling, Floyd."
"Well, I don't. Do you know what I see when I look at you?"
"The ugliest boy in the world."
"You just saying that."
...When we got to Greasy Cave the next day, Floyd took enough bets to double our stake if we won -- or ruin us if we lost. I give the Greasy Cavers every bit of ugly I had.
It just wasn't enough.
When Floyd let me out of the box, I was face to face with the ugliest boy I ever seen in my life. How can I describe how ugly this boy was? I might as well describe how wet water is.
His ears was like plates glommed onto the sides of his head, and his teeth stuck out in every direction except straight. His nose must have been six inches long, but it curled up at the end like a pig snout. His eyes was two or three different colors, and his eyebrows met up with the hair on his head, which had so many cowlicks that no two hairs pointed in the same direction. On top of that, he was covered in coal dust. It made your eyes water to look at him.
That boy, Melvern, shows up later:
"So what you been doing since I defeated you last year?" Melvern asked. Besides squinting the one eye, now he was sucking his bottom lip back so it looked like he was more bucktoothed than he really was. I'll say this for the boy: he was making the most of his God-given ugliness.
But Grady's physical ugliness is not only a key to his origins but also a misleading face that hides the beauty of the person inside.

More about Grady and his compatriots tomorrow. Meantime, read more reviews of The Charlatan's Boy by visiting the other stops on the blog tour (list found here).


Jonathan Rogers said...

Uncle Brascal? That may be the best name I've ever heard. The chances of there being a Brascal in my next book are very good. So thanks.

Keanan, you have zeroed in on a very important aspect of The Charlatan's Boy: it owes a great deal to American vernacular storytelling traditions. My grandmother died a couple of weeks ago, and that gathering of family reminded me how much storytelling I was exposed to growing up. I ended up getting plenty of book-learning, and that certainly didn't hurt, but it was from kith and kin that I really learned how to tell the kind of stories that constitute The Charlatan's Boy.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Great post, Keanan. You've reinforced my belief that this book is a great read-aloud.

I had the privilege of hearing Jonathan read an excerpt of one of his Wilderking books to an auditorium of elementary school children. A couple paragraphs in and you could hear a pin drop, those kids were so engaged.

I knew then that the only thing that kept Jonathan's books from wild success was people hearing about them. I'm thrilled we have the privilege with CSFF to tell more readers about this talented writer and his work!


Keanan Brand said...

Jonathan -- Yeah, ain't it great? (laugh) He's my great-uncle, I think, and has been dead for about twenty years or so, but the memories of him are kept alive whenever someone in the family says, "Remember that time Uncle Brascal said...?"

And, hey, I'd be happy to see his name in print, especially as part of this excellent saga. He'd get a kick out of it, too, I'm sure!

Becky -- Absolutely! I'm looking forward to reading The Charlatan's Boy to the kids at the Club, starting in January.