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.


  1. Great review! This sounds like a very unique book.

  2. I'm reading this book in fits and starts as I finish the first draft of "Mona Lisa's Room." Your assessment is right on! Quirky, but in a delightful, gee, I wish I had his imagination kinda way. I've ordered a copy for my son, The Earl of Quirkiness. He'll love it

  3. This is one wild ride, Vonnie. I'll probably buy one for one of my weirder friends. Should fit nicely in her book club.

  4. Aubrie, you may be the master of the understatement. This is unique!

  5. This sounds ike my kind of book. If nothing else, the title gets you, and anyone who could think that up, has to have great characters. Kathleen Delaney Another of Dawn's clients. Murder Half-Baked Coming soon to an indepandent book store near you.
    May 15th)

  6. Wonderful review. I had been what kind of book this was with the crazy title, and you explained it eloquently!

  7. Great review. This book sounds so quirky I'm intrigued. Bet it's a fun read. You done good, Betsy. I may just have step into the unknown and buy it. Julie Gettys

  8. Thank you for taking the time, are a PEACH.