Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Bear in a Muddy Tutu by Cole Alpaugh
Quirky. That's the first word that comes to mind when you pick up The Bear in a Muddy Tutu. I would have picked this up based on the title alone. (Disclosure: Both Cole Alpaugh and I are represented by the same literary agent, Dawn Dowdle. That does not mean I like every book she represents.)
I was hooked by the first chapter. I couldn't believe any writer could create a character like Billy Wayne Hooduk, a fat loser of a man who was bullied throughout school and who had to take care of his even fatter mother. He's a loser until he finds a book in the library that he uses to map out his life: How to Become a Cult Leader in 50 Easy Steps. With no training, Billy Wayne sets out to change his life by becoming said cult leader.
Through a quirk of fate, one of many, Billy Wayne stops to see a traveling circus in Atlantic City. When the human cannonball falls short of his landing net, and when the circus owners are mauled by a tiger, Billy Wayne shoots the tiger. The circus is run out of town, Billy Wayne leading the trucks to a muddy bit of tidal land he'd discovered the day before. He believes he's found his "flock."
Add to the cult leader a wanna-be bear trainer named Slim Weatherwax (am I the only one who found the similarity between Lassie's trainer Rudd Weatherwax more than a coincidence?) and the title character, a toothless bear named Graceful Gracie. Add to this a misnamed laid-off reporter, Lennon Bagg. Misnamed? Yes, his hippie, commune-living father thought he was naming his son after Vladimir Lenin, but was too stoned to spell Lenin correctly. So Lennon Bagg goes through life named after a Beatle, not a Marxist revolutionary.
The quirks continue, with the reader becoming privy to Graceful Gracie's thoughts. We get inside the head of the bear, who turns out to be a softy and who loves her pink tutu. And yes, she dances.
The cast of characters also includes a man who is terrified of gravity, a man who's been struck by lightning a dozen times, an asthmatic lion, a drunk warden who once had an affair with Billy Wayne's mother. Quirky.
The plot is straight-forward. Billy Wayne searches for a home and thinks he's found it with the circus. Lennon searches for his daughter, snatched after a bitter divorce by an equally bitter ex-wife. Gracie searches for anything good to eat. And Lennon's daughter, who thinks her father is dead, talks to birds in an effort to find him.
I have no idea how to classify this book. It's fiction, unless the writer actually ran away to join the circus. Which I doubt.
I won't give away the ending. It's too quirky not to unfold for every reader. I'll leave the review with this: if you like something offbeat, impossible to classify, filled with characters unlike any you've ever met, and a quirky plot, you'll like The Bear in a Muddy Tutu. If not, skip this book. It's not for you.