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Book Review: The Wild Things by Dave Eggers

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What’s the opposite of disappointed? Satisfied? No, too mild. Pleased? See “satisfied.” Excited? Nah, too active. Delighted? Aha!

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been a fan of anything for forty years, but it somewhat eases the pain when the thing is a children’s book (although I’d be a liar if I said, “My nanny read it to me when she tucked me in at night”). Making a list of my top ten all-time favorite books would be difficult, but naming my top three is a breeze: Green Eggs and Ham, Where the Wild Things Are, and Gone with the Wind. Because the first two differ greatly, they tie for first place.

I have not yet seen the film version of Where the Wild Things Are. When I’d first heard the beloved book was being made into a movie I had mixed emotions. I very much wanted to see how it could be done, but I was afraid of what would happen when a book of few words (388 according to UK’s Guardian [http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/25/bookscomment.comment]) was translated into a feature-length film. I had seen the 1973 animated short (and have it somewhere) which was acceptable, but drawing it out to 101 minutes? Not possible! Hmmmm…but it was adapted as an opera in 1980. I wonder how that went? Oh, and Maurice Sendak was a producer of the 2009 film. I do plan to see the movie, but as a Netflix subscriber, I have a “long wait.”

I’ve just finished reading The Wild Things by Dave Eggers. I was not expecting to enjoy it, since it’s an expansion of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are which I regard as a perfect work. Within a few pages of The Wild Things, I was delighted (see paragraph 1). Sometimes being wrong is the greatest feeling in the world. How wrong was I? I read all 284 pages in one sitting.

The Wild Things is based both on Sendak’s original work and the 2009 film, which Egger co-wrote. It is not faithful to either — that would have been impossible. It takes Sendak’s Max and makes him into a real boy (no, not Pinocchio, but close). Max is eight-years-old and lives with his sister and mother. He doesn’t have a clue why his sister, who is fourteen, stopped being his playmate as she became a teenager, or what has his mother, an overworked single mom still hurting from her divorce, so sad all the time. Max has his own issues with his dad, and he is a little firecracker of anger looking for a place to go off. Max may also be a little ADHD, which complicates things for him.

Dave Eggers enables the reader to see the world through Max’s eyes, in so doing we see how seemingly insignificant things can be magnified to terribly hurtful experiences, and understand the frustration that Max feels with his world. Sendak’s Max visited the wild things in a dream after being sent to his room without dinner. Eggers’ Max runs out of the house with mom’s nerdy boyfriend in pursuit, jumps into a boat and sails away. Both authors deliver rich, satisfying fantasies for the Max in all of us.

There are many parallels between Max’s family life and the life he has with the wild things, although Max isn’t always aware of them. Max is impulsive; he puts plans into action which he hasn’t thought through, for which he hasn’t considered consequences. These wonderful plans, designed to make everyone happy, tend to fail. In his everyday life, Max is a little boy alone, desperately wanting his family to be happy and “normal.” Once he sails to the island, where he becomes the self-declared king, Max is still alone, a little boy among wild things that could (and are quite willing to) eat him up.

When Max sailed away from home, he jumped in a boat, set the rudder straight, and went with the waves, letting them take him where they might. Max’s life was a lot like that; he didn’t steer — life happened to him. Max learns — from his experiences with the wild things — that life and the beings that inhabit it are confusing, and it’s through trial and error that he learns to navigate those waters, taking responsibility for the direction in which he will travel.

Maurice Sendak provided us with the wild things; Dave Egger developed them into sentient beings. We reap the benefit of Sendak’s pictures (in our memories) enriched by Egger’s prose. Like Max himself, The Wild Things is wildly imaginative. It is a deeply satisfying fantasy, finely wrought with emotion, perception, and misperception.

Bottom Line: Would I buy The Wild Things? Yes. Insightfully written, it spoke eloquently to my inner Max.

 

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