Books for Precocious Kids and Big-hearted Grownups
by Dan Pinkerton
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
by George Saunders
There’s nothing even remotely formulaic about George Saunders. The style and tone of his stories are so distinct they become instantly identifiable, fundamentally Saundersy. Even the author’s lone children’s book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, shares some DNA with his adult stuff. The book has been tamed to achieve a PG rating—no clubbed raccoons dumped into pits, just some squabbling, some light roughhousing, a little sand in the underwear—but the other elements are there: the amusing dialogue; the slangy, pared-down diction; a world similar but not quite like ours; a protagonist who manages to see beyond the limiting factors of her existence. At 84 pages, including some full-page illustrations by Lane Smith (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, James and the Giant Peach), Gappers even resembles Saunders’ other works in length. One might consider it a starter course in Saunders.
The story is set in Frip, which can scarcely be called a town, lacking anything by way of stores, schools, or other amenities. It’s more like a three family collective wedged between sea and swamp where the families subsist by raising goats. All would be well and good were it not for the gappers: small, round, spiky creatures who crawl from the ocean, attaching themselves in large numbers to every goat they can find. Why? Because Gappers love goats. Encountering one elicits from them high-pitched shrieks of pleasure. For goats, the feeling is not mutual, and the animals stop producing milk, a major concern in a one-industry town. Saunders sets all this up neatly, economically, in the opening pages. Continue reading