Book: The Hookie-Pookie Man
Author: Ray Holland
Type of Book: Fiction, gently weird
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Actually, this book is likely a better bet for my site for “norm books” but Ray Holland sent me this book with an eye to reviewing it here and since that was his preference, I’m discussing it here (I’m still easy like that, but the fact is this book has a gently weird plot line that means I only have to stretch my definition of what is odd moderately to discuss it here).
Availability: Published by Great Big Dog in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: As I state above, this book likely will not strike the majority of the readers here as odd because it really isn’t that odd. But Ray sent me this copy of the book to discuss on IROB and I’m happy enough to oblige him. However, if you read here for full-bore oddness, you may want to give this review a miss because aside from some mildly strange plot elements – specifically, two women have a one-night stand with men from outer space and end up bearing their children and one’s son goes on a quest to find the other’s daughter, believing her to be his only chance at love – this is a book that is quite traditional. The characters are people you already know, the situations make sense, the plot is linear and overall, this struck me as less odd than as a book that could easily be a very well-received young adult novel.
All protestations of oddness aside, this is a well-written, well-edited, engaging book. It is, at its core, a book about individuality, the need for love, and personal loss. Though the book mentions sex, the one-night-stand is dealt with very demurely. This is a very sweet book, and many may scoff at sweetness, but at the time when I read it, it was very welcome. The discreet handling of human sexuality, while making no bones that it is important, combined with the overall sweetness and kindness, is why I think this might be a good young adult novel. But I also suspect that any young adult would roll his or her eyes and think me a quaint old woman for saying so. However, James Frey (whose redemption arc always points in the wrong direction, it seems) seems to think that after Harry Potter and wizards and Edward Cullen and vampires, the next supernatural rise in young adult fiction will be aliens, and if he’s right, maybe Holland is on to something.
But I think this book suffers from a thing that no writer should have to worry about when writing: it is hard to categorize. God knows when I tried to write the notion that one should be able to easily classify books was rammed down my throat often enough. But I think I know now why this simple minded and infuriating notion was so important to people who were not involved in the actual process of writing because The Hookie-Pookie Man is confounding to me. It is a bit gentle for people looking for a good space alien story. There is plenty of love quest and potential and thwarted romance but not enough sex or even culmination of romance to satisfy readers looking for a romance novel. All the characters are adults, though one has child-like tendencies, so teens might not be interested in the characters but the characters are gentle enough that adults might think it too tame. There is a sad, semi-violent ending that would upset those who want blander fare. The last time I read a book this gentle and sweet, it had Christian overtones and this book does not, so those looking for books with a message would not be satisfied with this book. Had this book no one-night-stands with aliens, I can almost see it as a nod to a writer like Hardy, telling the story of fatherless children searching for one another.
And all of that is a damned shame because lack of clear category works against this book. A niche helps books in ways we don’t realize until we find a book that really does defy category and that’s troubling because this book is worth reading and will likely fall through a lot of cracks. In fact, given that this book is self-published, I have to wonder if a regular publishing venture would have given this book the time of day, given the complete inability to pigeon-hole it. Maybe that is reason enough to discuss the book over here, as being so utterly unlabeled is, in this day and age, sort of odd.
Anyway, the book’s plot is deceptively simple, as are most book plots until you discuss all the details: Two female friends have a tryst with humanoid-appearing men from the Hookie-Pookie planet, and end up pregnant. Dwight’s mother is more or less accepting of her son’s strangeness, but Amanda Lynn’s mother is not, and the two women lose touch. Dwight, becoming aware that Amanda Lynn is out there somewhere, wants to meet her because he feels she is the only person who could understand him. Dr. Herman Schnauzer, a Professor of Extraterrestrial Anthropology, becomes involved in Dwight’s search for Amanda Lynn, at first academically, but before long becomes personally invested in the quest. Herman has a relatively rich life of his own, and is himself in a sort of love quest, and things end horribly or as you might expect, given whatever world view you may subscribe to.
Holland has an easy, folksy writing style, but he also has a pretty good grip on the absurd. Combined, these create a sort of gentle weirdness. Here’s a section wherein he laid out evidence that Dwight is a bit unusual. It begins sweetly enough, with a kindergarten-age Dwight telling girls that they could get pregnant by eating candy bars that little boys give them. But then we see Dwight a couple of years later:
And then there was the time Dwight was caught spray-painting graffiti on the side of his school building:
FIVE TWENTIETH CENTURY EVENTS OF ESCHATOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE
1, The admission of Arizona as a U.S. state.
2. A man named Thurston Owsley coughing up blood on September 23, 1939 in Dove Pass, Vermont.
3. The invention of nylon.
4. The assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
5. The release (but not the production) of the movie The Shining.
How does an eight-year-old come up with that.
As he investigates Dwight’s strange case, Herman is given to flights of fancy, as he develops a crush on Wendy, Dwight’s mother:
But succeed or fail, I hoped this little project would turn out to be a sort of bonding experience for us–for Wendy and me, that is–something meaningful we had done together and gotten excited about together. Many years later, we could sit on the front porch in our rocking chairs–old married couple–and reminisce about it as the beginning of love.
Poor Herman is as lovesick as Dwight, but as a middle-aged man, he should have known better. But clearly, he is a hopeless romantic, and while some could see this as borderline squicky, that he was only helping Wendy in an attempt to get her to love him and as such is the dreaded Nice Guy, I tended to look at Herman as shockingly naive for a man his age. But that “yeah” at the end shows that maybe Herman isn’t so naive after all. He’s given to flights of fancy because he can’t help it but he sort of knows how silly it all is.
Holland executes some very subtle but deft characterization throughout the book. Take the example of Melanie, Amanda Lynn’s mother, who is intransigent throughout the whole process. Melanie is outright hostile to the idea that Dwight and Amanda Lynn should meet, and while she is a shrill, devious, unpleasant woman, her denial about her daughter’s origins and distaste for the whole idea of them meeting is made very clear:
“…think about what those two pigs did that morning. They might as well have laughed in our faces and said, ‘Ha ha ha. Have a nice life, you two dumb bimbos,’ and then walked out the door. Believing their story is like saying it was okay for them to treat us that way. I can’t do anything about it, but I can maintain my dignity. My self-respect.”
For Melanie, her idea of self-worth trumped any sense that she needed to allow her daughter the chance to understand and express her alien heritage and have a bond with the only other person on the planet like her. Despite the number of smaller side characters, Holland manages to give them all a face and characteristics. There seem to be no cannon fodder characters in this book, but Holland also manages not to give the side players too much of a role lest they distract from the rest of the book. It’s a difficult balance but he pulls it off well.
I admit that I read this book during a time when I was reading a lot of bizarro, aggressive, intense bizarro, and may have welcomed the nice change this book offered, for bizarro is often a dive headfirst into a shallow pond. This novel, with well-fleshed characters, an involved plot given plenty of time to unwind, and a sweet yet often unsentimental tone, suited me well when I read it. Given that many of my readers here prefer far harsher fare, I am unsure if most would like this book but I did and consider it worth a read.