Few people are immune to temptation, least of all me.
Actually, that’s not true: I’m usually loyal to my books, regardless of length, subject matter or how much I actually enjoy them. I’ve mucked through some mediocre stories, from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to The Lady Matador’s Hotel, on the principle that every book I start deserves to be read all the way through to the end without exception and with full dedication each and every time, no matter what, period. These past few years especially, I was a Cover-To-Cover man.
Then Audrey showed up.
Here’s what happened: I heard about Nicholson Baker and I thought I’d try some of his stuff. I read The Mezzanine, his first novel and a quirky one at that, and liked it. Long sentences, yes; humorous and touching observations, yes; passionate attention to extensive tangential detail, that too. But the book had personality: it stood out, it made me smile, and it rocked footnotes eight years before David Foster Wallace made them cool. So I picked up his second novel, Room Temperature. No footnotes, but its style is much the same: acute detail, lots of asides, and obsessive documentation. And I would have gone on reading it, regretting the syntax but forcing myself along …
… if it weren’t for Audrey.
Audrey (Big Audrey as she’s known in L.A.) is the protagonist of Daniel Pinkwater’s Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. Audrey is, in her own words, “a nice-looking girl with lovely whiskers.” She comes from another plane of existence (explained in chapter one), is friends with characters from Pinkwater’s other books (mentioned in chapter two), and travels with Marlon Brando to NYC until she can’t stand him any longer and leaves for Poughkeepsie (detailed in chapter three).
Blame it on my love of randomness, call me a guzzler of creativity, group me with the Sesame Street generation – I don’t care. When a great book struts its stuff right in your face, showing off its easy sentences, rich imagination, and its many compelling characters, you don’t think twice: you go for it.
Am I wrong in my thinking? Is it unfair to ditch the partially begun book in favor of a suddenly more appealing one? I can’t be the only person who fantasizes about other novels, even while my bookmark is in the first one. Surely life’s too short for bad books.
But Room Temperature (at least through chapter four) isn’t bad at all. It’s quirky, generally plotless, and its syntax is noticeably plump. But these qualities aren’t reason enough for me to abandon it. It deserves attention, dedication … I will read it … eventually …
Yet even now, I think back to my fling with Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. I can only compare it to A Wrinkle in Time or The Phantom Tollbooth, and like L’Engle’s and Juster’s masterpieces, it brilliantly caters to the fresh minds of younger readers and the experienced minds of older readers. Pinkwater is very smart but also very respectful, he has bountiful creativity and can communicate clearly. Not all adult authors can boast this: the Joyce and Garcia novels that I mentioned earlier are each missing these virtues. Not Pinkwater, baby: his story feels both crafted and spontaneous; his every chapter is a delight.
In the end, I’ll always think highly of Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl. It entered my life, it lifted my spirits in a big way: it deserves full praise. Room Temperature is just a small hiccup in an otherwise steady reading schedule. I’ll finish it, and then read Baker’s next book, and so on, and it’ll all work out smoothly. Unless … hmmm, those Pablo Neruda poems sure look nice …