Marvelous Medicine: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

Books for Precocious Kids and Big-hearted Grownups


~by Dan Pinkerton 


Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R.L. LaFevers


Like many households, ours is in the midst of a Sherlock kick.  I tried explaining to my kids that Sherlock Holmes first appeared back in the nineteenth century, but I think it’s still tough for them to envision him without a cell phone and unlimited free texting.  We powered through the current season in a bit of inspired binge viewing and were left afterwards with that pang of emptiness one experiences when forced to bid farewell—even if temporarily—to a beloved TV companion, whether Walter White or the Starks of Winterfell or the rebooted Sherlock Holmes, that “highly-functioning sociopath.”

To fill the void, I suggested we watch the 1985 Barry Levinson film Young Sherlock Holmes, a reimagining of the character as a teenaged student.  Penned by Chris Columbus (who would later adapt Harry Potter for the screen), the script stays true to Doyle’s vision of Sherlock.  Even as a youth, Holmes’s powers of perception are astute, and during the course of the film he acquires his trademark affectations—the violin, the pipe, the funny hat…even Watson.

My parents took me to see Young Sherlock Holmes when I was ten, and it made quite an impression on me, but in the intervening years I hadn’t re-watched it, so I was curious how the movie (and I) had aged.  Inevitably, Young Sherlock Holmes wasn’t as magical as I remembered, but it was still well worth the three-dollar rental fee.  My wife spent parts of the movie toying with her phone and clearing the dinner dishes and my six year-old daughter lost interest midway through, but my eight year-old son remained rapt throughout. Continue reading

The Lightning Room: Blog People

Hello! Welcome back to Blog People, a venture here at the Lightning Room in which interview editors Simon and DeWitt interview their fellow denizens of The Blog. In our second installment, Simon interviews Dan Pinkerton, author of the column “Marvelous Medicine.”

1. You write the monthly column “Marvelous Medicine” (often subtitled “Books for Precocious Kids and Kid-Hearted Grown-ups”) for PANK –could you tell us a little about it, and perhaps its beginnings?

Sheila was familiar with my writing, so when she took over as editor of the PANK blog she asked if I’d like to contribute something on a regular basis.  I was enthusiastic about doing a themed column, but neither Sheila nor I were too keen on the first couple ideas I proposed.  Then I had one of those eureka moments as I was reading to my kids.  They are six and eight, so they’re starting to read some of the books I remember enjoying as a child, so I envisioned writing a monthly piece on children’s books that might hold some appeal for literary-minded adults.  I presented the idea to Sheila and she approved (perhaps because she also has young kids at home?).

I’ve started by discussing some writers who will likely be familiar to PANK fans – Donald Barthelme, George Saunders, Matthea Harvey – but I’m hoping to branch out and explore “lost” (out of print) books and underappreciated authors. Continue reading

Marvelous Medicine: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip

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

Marvelous Medicine: Books for Precocious Kids and Kid-Hearted Grownups

~by Dan Pinkerton

of lamb

Of Lamb, by Matthea Harvey, paintings by Amy Jean Porter
McSweeney’s Books

Many of the classics have an air of weirdness about them, novelty coupled with discomfiture. The art startles, making you more alert, opening you to a new kind of beauty. Think Dalí or Buñuel, Wallace Stevens or William Faulkner, Bladerunner or Charlie Kaufman. Of course there’s bad weird, weirdness for its own sake, genuine insanity. Such weirdness quickly fades. But there’s also good weird, the weird that endures. Of Lamb, a book of poems by Matthea Harvey with paintings by Amy Jean Porter, is assuredly good weird.

The weirdness is there in neon from the start. Porter’s paintings are a hodgepodge of color and line, stencil-style patterns, leaves and limbs and vines spiraling across the page. We get glimpses of everything from Manny Ramirez to Seventies-era split-levels to Washington crossing the Delaware. In one illustration, the book’s protagonist, Lamb, stands on a table gnawing at his back leg, surrounded by cacti, while a large wasp settles on his haunch. In another, Lamb is tightrope walking above an old cabinet-style TV set on which an image of Peter Jennings plays. Continue reading