Our first selection for the All Ages Summer Book Club was Neil Gaiman’s The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, which was re-released last week with artwork by Eddie Campbell. We had our first Twitter discussion on our summer reading pick as well, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We even decided on our next selection during the talk, but you’ll have to read to the end of this article to find out what it is.
What did everyone think of our first read?
I found the story problematic in several ways. There were a surprising number of unnecessary allusions to domestic violence throughout such a short story. A woman is beaten by husband for offering strangers shelter from a storm and then he rapes her. Next Calum MacInnes casually mentions that he beats his son, and later death is doled out even with an equal amount of disregard. If the abuse, rape, and murder weren’t disturbing enough, there was also accompanying misogynistic dialogue. For example: “It is all nonsense. Old woman talk. It is not truth.”
Throughout these scenes I regretted choosing this title for an all age read. I rationalized the choice by listing off well-respected children’s books that feature abuse (Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Ghosts in the Gallery, etc.), and then felt even more disturbed by the epidemic of abuse in popular kid’s books.
The unnamed narrator is only known as the “wee man.” The Wee Man is a dark character motivated by revenge, but his backstory was sufficiently sad enough to retain empathy. The plot resolution was powerful, but is still wasn’t enough for the story to provoke real thought. When I closed the book the only question that stayed with me was whether the main character was supposed to be part fairy, part leprechaun, or something else.
On the plus side, Campbell’s work added layers of dimension to the story. The pages were miniature watercolor paintings reminiscent of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The images of the red-haired little girl were appropriately bittersweet and Calum’s face had a perfect stony look of misery.
Also, it is worth noting that while this story wasn’t spectacular, it still has that otherworldly gleam that all Neil Gaiman stories possess. There is a succesful build-up of suspense and I found myself worried about the narrator. Any story that is able to provoke an emotional response is not a total failure, and this managed to push my buttons. I’d give it a 6 out of 10.
I’m much more excited about our second pick for our First Annual All Ages Summer Reading Club: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Meet me on Twitter at 7 pm on Sunday, July 27th to discuss the book, and in the meantime feel free to comment on this post to share your thoughts on Suzanne Collins’ first installment in the Underland Chronicles. Let’s go outside to soak up some rays and read.