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A Simple Plan

I didn’t really get Every Friday the first time I read it. Actually I didn’t get it for many years, along with a lot of other books by Dan Yaccarino, and songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and those Roz Chast comics in The New Yorker, and paintings by Edward Hopper, and that movie – what was it called? – about the guy who drives his tractor to Wisconsin. The Straight Story. I still don’t get The Straight Story.

Though I’m happy to say I’ve come around to all of those others, and even rely upon them to different degrees. No, not to get me through the day or anything like that, but for the reminders they offer that just when we think we have broken things down to their most elemental natures, there’s more. More digging and planning and mortaring that we were disinclined to notice. This doesn’t need to be part of some unified theory, or academic syllabus, or even contain some hidden meaning, in fact it is generally the meaning of these works that is written all over their surfaces which we take for granted.

You don’t have to study very hard to appreciate Every Friday, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. This is essentially the story of a boy who looks forward to a trip to the diner once a week with his father, but did you notice the toys in a shop window, divertingly imagined, and did you notice who got diverted? Did you notice – or bother to study very closely - the building rising to thirty-seven intricately constructed stories? Because they do - that father and son - and mark their togetherness
by it.

And when all of the analysis is over, and you are ninety seconds deeper in your life, is this finally a book you will remember exactly enjoying in the strictest of terms? I don’t know. Enjoyment is these days about the safest of rationalizations for all of the hoops we jump through to call ourselves engaged. What do we mean when we tell the playwright, the actor, the artist “we really enjoyed it!” except that the one thing she can safely assume is we we’re glad it’s finally done. Enjoyed. Enlightened. Drinks.

At the end of the day, it’s probably as easy to underestimate the resonance of a book as deceptively simple as Every Friday as it is to not completely appreciate the panoramic blitzkrieg that is Mark Alan Stamaty’s Who Needs Donuts? about another little boy and his trip in the city. This time the breakfast – and the landscape – are so fantastically excessive it’s almost impossible to stop wondering about all of the effort and virtuosity and boundless improvisation that went into the creation of even a single page, many of which here seem to be trying to capture the entire history of an epically dysfunctional civilization.

There’s a social conscience here (“Who needs donuts when you’ve got love?” shouts a sad old homeless woman), and a wild bull escaping from the pet store, but mostly there are these pictures of literally thousands of donuts not generated by a computer, and birds with horses’ heads playing saxophones with trees growing out of them. No, really. This book was published in 1973, it’s a little bit skuzzy in the manner of American big cities from that time, and Stamaty has never done another children’s book since. You’ve seen his illustrations before in The New Yorker, Time and any number of other publications, though it’s hard to imagine where he found the time to do very much else in a life that included the making of Who Needs Donuts? Certainly this is a book worth owning, if for no other reason than you could never really finish it. 

Across from all of this industry then, it’s easy to misconstrue simplicity for laziness, and tempting to regard the success of certain artists as pure dumb luck, or pandering, though I think these things become clearer over time, or anyway that is all we can hope. Every Friday begins with a note from the author to the effect that this story was inspired by a very real commitment in his own life, and he recommends it, though I think that prescription is intended generally, and I think it’s also true to the ambitions of a story about a very short hour in a very long week. That we take something away, however small and apparently fleeting at the time. That five, or ten, or thirty years later, there it still is, some faintest impression, to share and remember and look forward to, even when we cannot call it by a name.

Jan 02 2010 | Comments: 0

Filed Under:  Quiet Please  






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