Monday, March 16, 2009

A brother's war

Rodman Philbrick hasn't updated his website to include his latest book, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (P. Figg and Philbrick have some aural similarity, I like that). I can forgive authors who are actually writing from keeping up their websites. Homer is an orphan, living with his older brother Harold on their evil uncle's farm in Maine. When the uncle takes cash from a local rich man who wishes his own son to avoid military service, Harold is nefariously drafted into the Union Army and marched south. Homer -- who never lets the truth get in the way of a good story -- escapes the farm and follows Harold. On his journey, which winds up at the Battle of Gettysburg, Homer meets a number of interesting people -- not all of whom have his welfare at heart -- and has some lively adventures. Homer can tell a good story.

This novel is narrated by William Dufris, who is -- I learn from the audiobook -- the voice of Bob the Builder (which I guess you can hear at this website). [Bear in mind that I only know of Bob because young children ask for books about him, and his DVDs are often the only ones sitting on the shelf.] Dufris reads Homer's story with a high-pitched, slightly hoarse and squeaky delivery that seems appropriate for this excitable, adventuresome boy. He's very good at creating characters through voices, and provides many memorable creations of the people Homer meets on his journey. The kindly Quaker, the fast-talking grifter, and Professor Fleabottom, the flim-flam operator of the traveling medicine show -- where Homer performs as a pig-boy -- all stand out for me.

At the end of the novel, there is an extensive glossary of terms used in the Civil War era, which Dufris reads in a neutral, non-character voice. It's pretty dull to listen to, particularly after Homer's exciting story.

On the whole, however, I simply enjoyed the fact that a storyteller's story is told to me out loud. At the end of the book, you learn that Homer is looking back and telling you the adventures of his childhood, and I could just imagine him as grizzled grandpa (a little bit civilized thanks to his Quaker foster father), sitting with his rapt grandchildren -- heck, all the children from those parts -- and spinning his yarns. Perfect for an all-ages family car trip ... and there are never enough of those!

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