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This is technically the third of the series which began with The Neddiad and The Yggyssey, but as it follows a minor character from the second one into her own story, it can probably be read independently.

Big Audrey, the cat-whiskered girl, has at the start of the book left Los Angeles and all her friends to go in search of her destiny. As was inevitable in the sort of universe Pinkwater writes about, she ends up working at a New Age-UFOlogist bookstore in Poughkeepsie. Then things become odd, in a dimensional travel sort of way, involving possible ghosts, probable aliens, definite flying saucers, and random fairy tales and other novels wandering in and out of the plot. This is a book in which the protagonist and her best friend travel down the Hudson River on a coracle paddled by a miniature giant, in order to meet a werewolf-like thing named Max who lives on a remote island with a bunch of trolls (yes, hello Sendak), and you realize reading it that that was pretty much how you expected things to work.

Which is kind of the problem, really. I don't think this is as good as either of the first two (granted, I think The Neddiad is the best book Pinkwater's written), and I think that the quality issues are because it is both mildly predictable (okay, if you've read a lot of Pinkwater) and very episodic. In general his work has a lot of stuff going on in it, but there's usually an underlying coherency, a plot that comes together in a way that makes emotional if not logical sense. This one has bits that just actually seem to wander through and never become relevant again. There is not, necessarily, anything wrong with that, but it gives the book a very loose feel-- paradoxically, I don't think it's as rich as his more tightly plotted things. Mind you, it's possible it's too early to judge, as while there is a satisfactory ending, this has been left so open for a sequel that it says on the final page that it is being continued in a sequel and gives the title. It may be it will be a better-structured series, or this may even be secretly the first half of a novel. But as a stand-alone, it is while pleasant not brilliant.

But it is pleasant. I like Audrey, who is a smart and canny protagonist who is unwilling to believe in unlikely things even when everyone around her is insisting on them. I like this version of Poughkeepsie, which does not come across to me as clearly as L.A. did in The Neddiad, but which is still a loving and cheerful version of an obviously real place. And the thing I outright love about this book is the way that Audrey's cat-whiskers do and do not make a difference in her environment. I kept thinking of [personal profile] rax's recent class in transsomatechnics, the theories about human and animal bodies and the ways they cross and connect-- Audrey spends the entirety of the book as some kind of catgirl, anything from just the whiskers to points in which she is basically a bipedal cat. It does not affect how anyone treats her, for the most part. People just take the whiskers in stride; her employers assume she's an extraterrestrial but also assume it is none of their business. When she's more catlike, she occasionally has to tell people to change the vocabulary they're using about her ('Could we make it just girl and not cat-resembling girl?') but that's really all, and she herself does not seem remotely bothered or confused about anything related to the way her species fluctuates. And it all comes across as a weird kind of psychologically plausible, despite the fact that in most books people simply do not have this sort of non-reaction to this sort of fluidity. I took a great meta-enjoyment in it, and from identifying the various novels and stories that cameoed, even when the cameos weren't doing much.

In short, I wouldn't start Pinkwater here, or read this if you know you do not like him, but if you do it's a perfectly respectable middle-of-his-quality fun little book. (Note: sequel not out yet.)


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March 2017

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