2011: 85. Figgs & Phantoms

"The black-clad giant moved slowly, silently, like a grotesque late-afternoon shadow, past the shops on Hemlock Street."

Figgs & Phantoms, Ellen Raskin

       I first read this when I was kid, because, after having read The Westing Game (which is one of my favorite books), I went to the library and sought out everything else Raskin has written.  Which, alas, wasn't much - Leon/Noel, which is great, The Tattoed Potato, which is pretty good, too, and this.  And this is so, so weird.  I mean, when I first read it, I did not understand it, but I was totally freaked out by it.  Re-reading it as an adult (and this must be the second time, at least, because I read a library copy as a kid, and at some point - probably in law school - I bought myself a copy over the internet), I appreciate the book, and I understand why it was a Newbury Honor winner (but only in the freaky-deaky 70's), but I stand by my feeling that it is pretty strange.  So different from The Westing Game so as to practically seem like a different author, though when I consider all four novels together, I guess I see it.

       So what is this weird book about? It's about the strange Figg family, a family of former vaudevillians who settled in the town of Pineapple.  And they are strange - from their skills - a human pretzel, a tap-dancing midget, a dog trainer, to their own unique religion- when Figgs die, they don't go to Heaven, but the mysterious land of Capri.  The story is about the youngest Figg, Mona Lisa, who doesn't like her strange family, and wants to be normal.  Her one solace is her relationship with her Uncle Florence, who is her best friend.  When (SPOILERS) he dies, Mona Lisa must come to terms with her loss.  Which all sounds like typical YA stuff, except that the way she does it is to enter the mysterious afterlife and it's so damn odd that I do not think that I cannot explain it to you unless you've read it.  In fact, I wish some one had, so we could talk about it.   

      I will say, that while I am still baffled by how strange this all is, I do see, as an adult that this is a special book - I think it takes on themes you wouldn't usally see in a "children's" book, and it's  certainly beautiful, even in it's weirdness.  But it does strike me as one of those books for kids that are really for adults, because, unlike her other works, I don't know what child could get anything out of this (other than being unsettled).

Categories:  Fiction, Re-Read.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017