Christopher Paul Curtis, Part 2
This is the second part of something my husband wrote for me. Since we’re actually doing Bud, Not Buddy this month, I waited until I finished the book to post it:
It’s been a long time since I wrote the first part of why Christopher Paul Curtis is an over-awarded hack that is a crap writer, but I’m not going to waste time explaining or apologizing because I just found out my wife is actually reading Bud Not Buddy and now I’m angry that no one is calling this guy out enough on being a crap author. Let’s get to it.
Curtis has no idea how to use time in a book. Actually, his ability to order things is pretty god-awful too. Flashbacks will happen to provide context for whatever idiotic thing the main character is doing, but it’s never a smooth transition. It’s often ‘Kenny remembered this,’ then a few paragraphs of some nonsense, followed by a return to the present, where Kenny then does whatever idiotic thing he was about to do. I guess we’re supposed to say ‘Oh, that’s why he’s being an idiot,’ but it’s just clunky writing. The most egregious example of this is at the end of the Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963, when Kenny has already gone through the terrible thing and is hiding behind the couch. Now, my memory is a little fuzzy on this, but I get the impression that when he hides behind the couch, his parents literally can’t find him. If this is the case, then clearly the moron apple doesn’t fall far from the moron tree, because I can’t imagine a couch designed in such a way that a ten-year-old can hide behind it and remain unseen from searching parents, or in fact a cursory glance. Bear in mind that they live in a small apartment. Anyway, returning to my actual point, here at the end of the book, the part wherein some actual character development and meaningful stuff might take place, there is an entire block of text about “The World Famous Watson Animal Hospital” or some such. It’s all about how the family would take in strays (which has never been mentioned in the whole book prior to this, nor after), the strays would get sick, and then they’d hide behind the couch until they either got better or died. This goes on for way too long and uses the full title of “The World Famous Watson Animal Hospital” every freaking time. It’s annoying to read and it’s obnoxious to read out loud. It brings the entire story to a full stop right at the end, when we might almost want to find out if Kenny the Unlearning might actually change in some way – maybe learn something, maybe mature a little, maybe realize that he’s ten and should really get around to recognizing cause and effect – anything! But no, we get a nonsensical bit of background that no one cares about stapled in about ten pages from the end. And that isn’t a spoiler – it’s a warning. The sad part is that a kid hiding behind the couch after a terrible thing doesn’t even need an explanation. It could have stood on its own. But once again, Curtis was like ‘this isn’t childish enough! Let’s make it stupid!’ Sigh.
Speaking of which: SPOILER WARNING. HEREAFTER THAR BE SPOILERS!
Everybody gone who wants to be? Very well. I want to talk about the terrible thing that happens to Kenny. For those of you who haven’t read the Watsons, I’ll summarize: Kenny and his family go to their grandmother’s for the summer. It’s 1963 and the grandmother lives in Birmingham. Most of you should be thinking ‘oh crap, that’s where the church got bombed’ and if you’re not thinking that, then no cookie for you because I actually mentioned that in my previous rant. Anyway, before the bombing happens, Kenny’s grandmother (who has a thick Southern accent that is hard for Michiganite Kenny to understand) warns him about the nearby lake because of the ‘Wool pooh.’ Now, I suppose that there’s no real reason why Kenny (and his brother, who’s normally cleverer) would realize she meant ‘whirlpool.’ I mean, they’re from Michigan, where I guess whirlpools aren’t very common. So when Kenny asks his brother (who is mean-spirited) and his brother spins a ridiculous tale of ‘Winnie the Pooh’s evil brother,’ I should forgive the little kid for believing it. Except I can’t, because that’s friggin’ stupid. I’m sorry, I can’t believe that any ten-year-old would believe something so incredibly dumb. It would mean that Kenny not only believed that somewhere was a real Hundred Acre Would with a real Pooh, but it would mean that he will readily believe that this real, live, stuffed animal has a murderous sibling that has heretofore gone unmentioned. I feel I should point out at this stage that we’re halfway to two-thirds into the book and Kenny’s brother has never stopped lying to him. It’s constant. Kenny’s too dumb to live.
Literally, it would seem: there are signs warning people not to go into the lake. The signs are poorly written and many are faded, and even Kenny’s brother is like ‘heck with this, I’m out of here,’ but Kenny’s like ‘I’m too dumb to live!’ and in he goes. So he drowns, and good riddance. Ha, if only. No, he only mostly drowns, caught in the hidden pull of the whirlpool, seeing his family upward and a fearsome monster below in blurry visions as his oxygen-starved brain starts to misfire. It’s all very interesting and mostly well described – one could even say that it’s Curtis’ best writing in the book… except that the monster is the Wool Pooh. The entire thing falls apart like a life raft made out of crackers. It just kept reminding me how much more fulfilling it would be if this character died from his own stupidity, because even at the edge of death, even after he realized that it was a whirlpool (see, he knew what one was), he still thinks of the shadowy figure as the Wool Pooh. Ugh.
Now that’s bad, but here’s where I find this asinine author’s asinine choice unacceptable: Kenny is in the church right after the bomb goes off. I won’t go into why he ran into the church (it’s dumb, but believable). The important thing is that he runs in to find his little sister, and finds fire, smoke, and carnage inside. The building’s on fire and partially collapsed and again, it’s a pretty intense scene, all the more so because it’s a legitimate tragedy from history and not some dumb kid being too dumb to live. But sure enough, when he’s inside and surrounded by smoke, what does he see? Yep, the Wool Pooh. Curtis decided that the Wool Pooh (who is never described as looking like a stuffed bear stuck in a honeypot) was Kenny’s personal image of the Grim Reaper. This is not the problem, since I’d expect a child who hallucinated a shadowy figure with grey hands during a near-death experience to imagine it again in a dangerous situation. The problem is that it’s still the frickin’ Wool Pooh! Wool Pooh! Say that out loud and then tell me it’s a good name for something scary! Do you know how hard it is to maintain a level of seriousness when the monstrous image of death is called the Wool Pooh? Curtis either never read his own stuff, or he has bizarre ideas of what is ominous. It just trivializes the entire event, which is entirely horrific and should be treated with respect. Not childish stupidity. Shame on you, Christopher Paul Curtis. Your writing is an insult.
Oh, and Kenny gets mopey because this was a serious event and he’s never dealt with seriousness in his life and at the end there’s no reason to believe he isn’t going to be the same detestable simpleton. It’s an awful book.