There’s what we do for love, there’s what we do for treats, and I’m pretty sure there are entire academic curricula devoted to telling the difference. You could spend many years untangling the fibers of private contentment and public approbation and still be pretty miserable, I bet, or you could happen upon something as light-hearted and ostensibly childish as Chris Monroe’s Cookie the Walker, and come away feeling you’ve heard everything you ever needed on the subject, then curse your luck at not having been born forty years later.
The treats here range from regular old biscuits to peanuts to licorice to what is, I can only imagine, the most irresistible doggy treat of them all, bacon. Also people saying you’re cute. I can imagine that would be pretty irresistible too.
And the love in this case appears to have happened, as love does, unexpectedly and for reasons having nothing to do with Cookie’s future career. With the self-effacing enthusiasm of an archaeologist discovering treasures where no one else has thought to look, Cookie describes to her friend Kevin the underrated joys of walking upright: looking out the window without climbing on the furniture first, turning on the TV, pulling damp towels off the rack (“They’re very comfortable.”). That these all happen in the privacy of her home and Cookie is subsequently out and about applying her newfound talent in the open is less a result of any native exhibitionism, I think, than the perfectly understandable inclination to want to see how far such talent extends – and alas, in this age of insatiable spectacle, it extends to approximately forever.
“Wow! Cookie! I can’t help but notice. You are an amazing walker,” begins the first of her temptations in the person of Beatrix Havior of the B. Havior Behavior Barn which, as a part of its promotional agenda presumably, stages a presentation in which Cookie walks on a ball across a kiddie pool filled with some “confused, recently borrowed-from-the-lake snapping turtles.” There’s a lot of that sort of marginal elaboration in this book, as there was in Monroe’s Monkey with a Tool Belt series, and you may think it’s beside the point if a point is really what you’re after, or you may just delight in the company of an author and illustrator so obviously enjoying herself, which is maybe, kind of the point.
Enjoy herself is what Cookie continues to do, moving on to the Cirque De La Toot, where she juggles on tightropes among other marvels, and gets famous, and receives bacon, and confesses to becoming just a wee bit tired, before the introduction of Stu Spoon, a famous Hollywood producer who enlists her cheerful services for a series of television appearances only sometimes related to walking. A cupcake show, maybe, demands some rudimentary footwork, and dancing with penguins, but imagine the Kardashians on “Ghost Hunters” and you get a sense of where this is heading.
Though walking upright may have been her original gift, I guess it is only the sort of keenness which we can replenish ourselves – without licorice, without bacon or flattery – that is responsible for any continuing excellence, whether you are a swimmer, a Kardashian, or a picture book maker always on the verge of something bigger. You hear the word “passion” getting thrown around a lot for promotional purposes, but the truth is passion is such a rare and unlearnable condition that even calling it that is to risk forgetting its source.
Monroe’s background is in comic books, and not having much experience there, I cannot describe technically how she manages to convey Cookie’s enveloping ennui – eyelids flattening? Under-bite receding? – though a walk around the world in Season Two seems like suddenly not such a winning proposition, no matter Stu is offering the ultimate incentives – a fanny pack and mini-fridge, which really, how could you not consider?
It takes Kevin – skeptic, fan boy, now quiet voice of wisdom – to put into words what is the most obvious, but not easiest, of solutions. Fanny pack be damned, Cookie really likes to walk on two legs, even if her motivations have become muddled, and though it’s not so tough to leave Stu with his insufferable soul patch standing at the altar, there is something meanwhile a little rueful, a little redeeming, and not a little grown up, about the calculation that some great loves are probably better enjoyed by ourselves.