Sunday, January 13, 2008
Wilson, N.D. 2007. 100 Cupboards.
I loved Leepike Ridge. Loved, loved, loved it. So when I saw this new author had a second novel coming out, I was very happy. And since I don't have a Random House contact (I would love, love, love a Random House contact), I purchased this one using my Borders bucks. One of the things I loved about Leepike Ridge was the language, the writing. It was bordering on magical the way Wilson's text wrapped itself around you until you were completely captivated.
This is how 100 Cupboards begins:
Henry, Kansas, is a hot town. And a cold town. It is a town so still there are times when you can hear a fly trying to get through the window of the locked-up antique store on Main Street. Nobody remembers who owns the antique store, but if you press your face against the glass, like the fly, you'll see that whoever they are, they don't have much beyond a wide variety of wagon wheels. Yes, Henry is a still town. But there have been tornadoes on Main Street. If the wind blows, it's like it won't ever stop. Once it's stopped, there seems to be no hope of getting it started again. (1)
This is our first introduction to our narrator and hero, Henry:
The Henry on the bus was not a town in Kansas. He was simply a twelve-year-old boy on a slow bus from Boston, waiting to meet an aunt and uncle he had not seen since the age of four. He was not looking forward to reuniting with Aunt Dotty and Uncle Frank. Not because he in any way disliked them, but because he had led a life that had taught him not to look forward to anything. (3)
Henry is an interesting narrator. A strange blend of a disconnected and unemotional boy with an unhappy but wistful longing for change. Does that make any sense? He is very unhappy in some ways; he's been disappointed by people, by things in the past. Yet he can't seem to shake hope as a companion. He's hoping for some simple pleasures. The pleasures of a real family, a real friend. The pleasures of baseball. Henry successfully kept his mind on the game, which might seem strange for a boy who slept beside a wall of magic. But baseball was as magical to him as a green, mossy mountain covered in ancient trees. What's more, baseball was a magic he could run around in and laugh about. While the magic of the cupboards was not necessarily good, the smell of leather mixed with dusty sweat and spitting and running through sparse grass after a small ball couldn't be anything else. (155-6) It is his longing for the ordinary, the simple things of life that provides such strong contrast to his unwillingly stumbling into adventures. Here is a boy who is not seeking out adventures, not seeking out magical lands, not seeking the mystical dangers of the unknown.
I hope I haven't confused you. Henry, our hero, is visiting his aunt and uncle and cousins. His parents were kidnapped. But Henry is unconcerned. (Which in itself is disturbing in a way to most readers. But when you think about it, most fantasy heroes just have to shake off their parents anyway to go on a quest. It's not unusual for parents to be long removed from the story either by death or abandonment. So why not kidnapping?) Henry is a visitor, and his room is the attic. His first few nights in the attic are strange to say the least. But things are about to get a whole lot creepier.
When two knobs suddenly poke through the plaster, Henry knows something is up. And try as he may, he can't fight his curiosity. What he discovers are 99 cupboards--most small--four inches in height. With his cousin, Henrietta, the two seem determined to uncover them. But while Henry can uncover them (de-plaster them) without much thought as to what he's uncovering or unsealing when it comes to trying to open them, well, he's a bit more reluctant. But Henrietta will not be easily dissuaded. So the adventures seem determined to find them one way or another. Their curiosity is only increased when they discover two journals kept by their grandfather.
The adventures that follow are purely creepy. The darkness and intensity of the text being broken only slightly with humor now and then. For fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, this one will be a sure winner. I can see easily why this book could truly become a favorite with kids (and a few adults that will admit to reading kids books). But in all honesty, this book was WAY too creepy for me. Perhaps my mistake was reading it late at night. I suppose I thought that it wouldn't be as dark and creepy as it was. But it was. It was thoroughly creepy. But I've got to remember, that many readers love creepy. They find creepy and dark delicious.
What I can't deny no matter how creeped out I got, was that N.D. Wilson has a way with words, a way with details, a way with characters.
Here's another review of the novel.
Here's the Random House page dedicated to the novel.