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I grew up with the work of Daniel Pinkwater. A copy of Lizard Music (1976) somehow or other appeared in our house when I was quite young-- I say appeared because I don't remember buying it, I don't remember being given it, and no one else remembers anything about it either-- and ever since then every so often I go on a Pinkwater reread in which I dive through whatever selection of his sixty to eighty books for children and young adults I can get my hands on.

Describing Pinkwater as a surrealist, small-s, is probably one of the two or three most common adjectives people use about his work, along with words like 'zany' or 'odd' or 'whimsical' and things along those lines. One of his most famous and best novels is called The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. It contains not only an avocado of death but a murderous orchestra-conducting orangutang. In various Pinkwater novels the space-time continuum is described as homologous to a map of New Jersey, an orange popsicle contains within itself the meaning of life, giant extraterrestrial worms believe firmly that the greatest desire human beings have is for Post Toasties, and the Flying Dutchman's curse can be lifted if he not only gets onto solid ground but has someone freely offer him a cheeseburger without onions. I've seen a fair amount of speculation along the lines of 'and then I guess he free-associates the rest of the plot'.

It was not until quite recently, however, that I noticed that Pinkwater is actually a capital-S Surrealist, by which I mean that he is intentionally and with forethought following the artistic and literary principles established by André Breton and his circle in Paris in the 1920s as part of the Surrealist movement, and that he is alluding in his body of work to the Surrealists and their intellectual ideas.

(No, it is not April Fool's Day. It is International Book Week, though that's only a coincidence, and I am completely serious.) )


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March 2017

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