Tidewater Review September  2008

Maverick Books that
Puzzle, Engage and Enrage

by

Anne Stinson

   The first in this oddball trio of books is so off the wall as to defy categorizing. It’s BIGFOOT: I Not Dead, by Graham Roumieu, a Plume Book, a division of the Penguin Group.
    How long is it? Uh, maybe about 50 pages. What? More than that, you say? Okay, let’s say 60 pages. There aren’t any page numbers and every time I try to count as I turn the pages, I stop to read the text again and get lost. Let’s just say it’s a funny book with great watercolor illustrations, and not bother to count. It has just the right number, that’s how many. And its price is $15.
    This subversive little book is Roumieu’s second in the saga of his hero, Bigfoot. The first one is titled Me Write Book. I haven’t read it, but apparently it’s a cult favorite among Bigfoot admirers. They’re the people on Weird TV who look into the camera with burning eyes and a quavering voice and whisper hoarsely, “There’s something out there.”
    If Romieu has got it right, Bigfoot’s just as insecure as the rest of us, with one major difference. If you push him too far, he will probably do you bodily harm. Like maybe eat you. He doesn’t often get petulant, but when he does, it’s for a good reason.
    Listen to him here on a page titled LOOK BOTH WAY. “How many reflective vest Bigfoot have to wear before people stop run Bigfoot over on foggy mountain road at night? One or two time a year maybe understandable, but one or two time a week? ... Maybe if soccer mom everywhere lay off wine spritzer and stop talk on cell phone while drive Escalade maybe this not happen. Maybe if you not act like my fault maybe I not throw you kids off cliff.”
    Since he’s come out of the woods to live among us, Bigfoot has learned many brand names from advertising. He has also learned many naughty words, all of which he spells accurately. Clearly, he still has work to do to master English as a Second Language, but he manages to make himself quite clear on most issues.
    The illustrations are beyond wonderful – a neat touch is the image of Bigfoot’s hands (paws? whatever) dripping blood when he’s feeling crabby. He sprawls on a recliner when he’s depressed. A liquor bottle and a big bucket of KFC are cradled on his lap and his huge arm dangles over an overflowing ashtray on the floor.
    Compare that lugubrious face with Bigfoot on stage in a preview of his upcoming, no kidding, off-off-off Broadway musical based on his life. It will have, he promises, “1. All dark, then flute and drum go Doo Doo Doo Teee Do, 2. Bigfoot come on stage and sing song about Bigfoot life. 3. Lots of dance and pretty lady, 4. Blinking light...” and ends with “some applauses.” Yeah, Bigfoot!

  And next – a book that’s sort of strange. To Touch the Wind, The Downey Chronicles by Peter R. Imirie, Infinity Press, $15.95. Half of the book is an adventure tale in Tidewater country, set in the 1950s. The second half is a tutorial on boats – how to recognize them and learn their parts, how to build them, when a rope becomes a line and how to make knots and where to use them, and even regional Southern Maryland foods, complete with recipes. As I said, it’s an odd format.
    The story revolves around an 11-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister who come from Montana to “River Springs” to meet their grandfather, a boat captain in Southern Maryland. Granddad and his friend, the descendant of slaves on the farm, work together to teach the kids to sail, to build their own boats and to wind up the summer visit with a no-adults sailing trip and overnight camping on Blakistone Island. Their campsite will be on the grass in front of an abandoned lighthouse.
    The two children are not alone. A cousin their age joins them. So does the grandson of the former slave. Each builds a boat under the tutelage of the old men. Two town boys who are experienced sailors and familiar with the terrain make up the fourth boat in the end-of-summer adventure.
    Each child is a dreamer in a different way, and all are stirred by the story that grandfather tells them the night before they sail to the island. He relates the legend that a real pirate buried a treasure somewhere on the island. Many people have searched for it, but the lighthouse may have been built over it.
    The camping trip is satisfyingly scary and threatening, the kids are all brave and resourceful and the story finishes halfway through the book.
    It all seems abrupt, more suited to a family audience than to commercial circulation. The author as much as says so himself, and indicates that it is only the first of a series of four books to come about the Downey Clan.
   “I’m a retired commercial boat captain myself,” he says, “and I’ve been a family boater safety instructor, I’ve designed and taught children’s boat building programs and I’ve been writing and teaching boater safety issues for years. I think this book, and the others in the series, should be part of any boating family’s library.”
    The book resonates with Imirie’s lyrical memories of summers in St. Mary’s County with grandparents, “a real Huck Finn childhood,” he says. In the adventure story part of the book, he ends several chapters with snapshots right out of his memories. “The dark shadows of the night began to engulf River Springs. The captain sat on the screened porch below. Katydids sang, the crickets chirped their mating whine and nocturnal hunters began to stir. A boat motor thumped in the distance, its disappearing sound growing faint across the still creek.... Today’s achievements were not the end, only the beginning. A cigar ash glowed in the warm summer night.”
    While the children’s adventure is fiction, its site is very real. There is a Blakistone Island and its lighthouse is pictured on the front of the book. Once scheduled for demolition, the lighthouse has been rescued and recently rebuilt. The author has marked profits from the sale of the book toward the fund for its restoration and maintenance.

   And just to round out this trio of unusual publications, Broken Angel, a novel by Sigmund Brouwer, WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. 243 pp. $19.99 is about as far-out as they come without actually being labeled science fiction.
    The villains in this battle between good and evil are a sect of strict fundamentalist Christians who have settled in a stretch of Appalachia and walled themselves off from The Outside. Their version of the Bible is the law and their leader is as fanatic as any of the cultist leaders of the late 20th century.
    The story is set some time in the future, and its structure hangs on the dire results of stem cell research. The unhappy victim of an experiment is at risk as a freak both inside and outside the fundamentalist compound. Her only protector is her father, the scientist who shelters her from certain destruction if her “difference” is detected.
    The chief security official in the compound is an outsider noted for his successes in tracking down heretics and frightening those among the believers who raise questions.
    Therein lies this reviewer’s distaste for the story. While admiring the imaginative plot and the overall character development, the enforcer’s tactics are so graphically described that the book descends into cruelty so depraved it could accurately be labeled pornographic.
    Brouwer is the author of 18 novels. His previous novel, The Last Disciple, has been featured in time magazine and on Good Morning America.
    Be that as it may, in my opinion, this time he’s gone too far.