In 1998 a snopes.com reader coined the term glurge, and I’ve been forever grateful. What is glurge? Snopes has this to say, “Think of it as chicken soup with several cups of sugar mixed in: It’s supposed to be a method of delivering a remedy for what ails you by adding sweetening to make the cure more appealing, but the result is more often a sickly-sweet concoction that induces hyperglycemic fits.” The website tvtropes.org claims the term derives from the sound of someone throwing up.
The Road to Ever After has a number of qualities that place it loosely in the glurge category, not the least of which was making me want to reach for the Dramamine. I’m going to highlight them for you in a vomity color to make sure you don’t miss any: there’s a kind-hearted, 14-year old orphan named Davy who spends his time drawing angels in the dirt. While trying to stay out of trouble from the self-righteous Parson Fall, Davy connects with a stray dog and the two go on the lam together. They are befriended by a quirky old lady who hires them to drive her to her childhood home, where she intends to die on Christmas Day. Along the way they encounter magical, possibly even supernatural situations. The only thing that could make this book more glurge-y is if it claimed to be based on a true story.
Ok, so maybe you’re thinking, geez, lighten up it’s a children’s book. “Balderdash!” I say (I use funny words sometimes). Children’s books don’t get a free pass to be lazy and manipulative. Some of the smartest books I’ve ever read have been children’s books (see my review of The Phantom Tollbooth). Furthermore, as I noted in this review’s title, I’m assuming this is a children’s book, but that raises some questions, too. Primarily, the author is fond of old movies and makes frequent references to It’s a Wonderful Life as well as other old Hollywood classics like Top Hat, Sunset Boulevard, and Now, Voyager. Nothing wrong with that, I love old movies, too. But how many 4th graders in the twenty-first century are familiar with the works of Fred Astaire or Billy Wilder? And she really is obsessed with It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie I have also enjoyed many times but which definitely flirts with glurgedom. In addition to the direct references to the film and its characters (Davy names the stray dog George Bailey), she sprinkles other allusions to the film and its actors, like Parson Fall, Potter’s Field, and a Miss Shasta Reed, who of course is a kind woman reminiscent of her namesake Donna Reed. Also bells. So many goddamn references to angels getting their wings.
“Is that it?” you might be asking. So if I don’t mind saccharine stories and old movie references, this book might be for me? Well, maybe if you also don’t mind things like:
- The writing is hackneyed. Example, in a conversation with Mr. Timm, the librarian, about the library being shut down, Davy wonders what will happen to the band of misfits and homeless people who rely on the library for somewhere to go.
“I’m afraid people don’t fit on their balance sheets,” said Mr. Timm.
“Then their balance sheets are wrong.”
A kid who acted alongside John Stamos can’t even believe this dialogue.
- The villain is ridiculous. Literally two pages in we learn about Parson Fall, whose “. . .iron heart held great sway in Brownvale. His large congregation lived under his rule. Liquor and dancing were forbidden.”
Wait, this sounds familiar.
- Other villains are even more over-the-top. Although we never actually meet him, we learn about Mr. Kite, the gangmaster, who rounds up vagrants and sells them into slave labor. “A bloodhound drooled next to him on the seat. Behind them was a rack of tranquilizer guns. In the cage on the truck bed several figures crouched, clinging to the bars.”
That moment when things get excessively creepy
- Which reminds me, can somebody tell me what the hell year this story takes place in? The author refers to the movie house as showing old black-and-white films, but then the parson’s wife pays Davy for one of his drawings with a “heavy coin,” with which he buys Christmas gifts for a poor family and still has money left over. At one point I really thought we were going to learn that this was a dystopian, post-apocalyptic future. Since that didn’t pan out, I’m guessing the story is supposed to transcend our standard sense of time? Really, I’m asking.
- Miss Flint, the old lady who hires Davy to drive her to her own suicide, is supposed to be embodying some kind of cease-the-day spirit.
- At any rate, Davy does act differently around Miss Flint. A kid who doesn’t even want to accept a free book from his librarian friend suddenly turns to stealing multiple motor vehicles during their journey, including that of a farmer who was nice enough to give them a ride when their car breaks down. I guess committing a felony was on the old lady’s bucket list?
Carpe diem, bitches!
- Fourteen-year-old Davy makes tremendous leaps in logic that happen to always be correct. When Miss Flint appears to have grown younger, a trip to the library suggests to him that she had actually died on their first evening together and he was now her guardian, guiding her soul to the afterlife. He confirms this by asking other people in the library whether they can see her (they can’t). While I appreciate the pro-library message, I’m a little skeptical that Davy could jump to this conclusion in an afternoon and accept it without any metaphysical soul searching. Later, Davy somehow guesses that throwing a coin in the air will stop the winds from blowing.
I’m stunned that this book has a nearly 4-star average on Goodreads (3.8 at this writing). Am I just cynical? I cry every time a dog dies in a movie, so I’m not heartless. This book just makes very little sense and contains more schmaltz than a Steven Spielberg movie. I looked at Moira Young’s website, and apparently the inspiration for this story came to her in a dream. When Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a dream he gave the world Kubla Khan. So, maybe what this book needed was a little opium? Hmm, Benjamin Button + Driving Miss Daisy + Footloose + It’s a Wonderful Life + Harold and Maude + opium. Yeah, I’d read that.