Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Daniel Pinkwater's 1976 young adult novel, Lizard Music, is a delightfully trippy and inventive story perfectly suited to fans of Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan. 

Eleven-year-old Victor’s parents are having some kind of marital trouble and decide to take a vacation by themselves, leaving their children at home. Victor's seventeen-year-old sister, Leslie, is left in charge. Once their parents leave, fast-track Leslie promptly announces she's splitting, taking off on a camping trip to Cape Cod with her hippie friends. She threatens him with dire consequences should he squeal.

Left alone in the house, Victor sees things aren’t so bad. He takes to eating pre-packaged instant dinners and watching lots of late night television. Victor loves television and is a big Walter Cronkite fan. One night, after the last program has run, he sees the most bizarre thing. It’s a group of actual lizards, on the television, playing music. The music is a bit weird to begin with, but then Victor finds he doesn’t mind it so much.

The lizard music is just the beginning of a series of strange and uncanny events. Victor meets “the chicken man”, an elderly Black man whose pet chicken, Claudia, sits under his hat. The Chicken Man, a mercurial figure who keeps popping up in different guises, eventually takes Victor to a place called Invisible Island, which is situated in the middle of Lake Mishagoo. On this island, which floats back and forth on the lakes, there lives a vibrant lizard community. They worship chickens, amongst other strange behaviour.

Daniel Pinkwater’s Lizard Music (1976) is a fun, bizarre, hallucinatory story that gets weirder and weirder, moving from dull, predictable suburbia to a surreal and comic lizard civilisation, complete with mystical places of worship. Written as a young adult novel, it’s also perfectly suited to adult readers. Fans of Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut will find much to enjoy in Pinkwater’s out-of-the-box imagination and eccentric characters.

For anyone who has ever felt themselves to be a fringe dweller, outsider or misfit, Daniel Pinkwater will offer solace with his reassuringly kooky world. A true original.

Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater. Published by New York Review Books. ISBN: 9781681371849 RRP: $16.99

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