Saturday, August 4, 2018

Meddling Kids: A Novel Hardcover – July 11, 2017 by Edgar Cantero (Doubleday)

There are lots of very earnest reviews of this book that highlight it's take on Scooby-Doo and similar kid detective classics. (The book has shout outs to Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew and so on, and about a million sly references to the whole Scooby-Doo canon, right down to who has red hair. And of course there are lots of Lovecraft references.) There is also a lot of discussion by readers about whether the book works as a horror/humor/Lovecraft/detective mashup. All of that, of course, is legit, interesting and helpful.

But, it should be noted and emphasized that this is a book by Edgar Cantero, and that guarantees it will be both more and less than just a straight up entertainment. Cantero's "The Supernatural Enhancements" delighted some and frustrated, annoyed and outraged others, and this book is a milder chip off that block. So, be warned that this book is a lot more than just a fond trip down Scooby-Doo memory lane.

At the risk of introducing the dreaded "meta-fiction" word, that's in part what we have here. Cantero comments on his book as a book within the text of the book. (Along the lines of "...two lines later, they were still stunned".) He occasionally throws in a script format. He makes up words. He uses ridiculously obscure words. ("Borborygmic thunder", where borborygmic means the rumbling sounds made by movement of gas through the intestines.) He addresses the reader. He uses inapt similes and metaphors. He peppers the characters' dialogue with non sequiturs and random thoughts. Verbs become nouns and anything can be an adjective or adverb. People don't see things when they can laser them. Sometimes his intentionally awkward sentence structure makes Cantero feel like English is his second language, after Venusian. Some readers, like me, think this is a hoot; some just get fed up. (BTW, actually and truthfully, he usually writes in Catalan or Spanish. "The Supernatural Enhancements" was his first novel in English.)

What is sometimes off-putting with Cantero is that he occasionally seems willing to mock the characters, the genre and his readers. One sometimes gets the feeling that he is above the whole writing-a-book thing and exists on some higher plane than mere book-reading mortals. But then, he tosses in some heart-breaking or lovely bit of prose, or some ridiculously funny throw away line, and you love him all over again.

So, you can read this and enjoy it as a Scooby homage/lark. Or, you can read it as an idiosyncratic, experimental, anything-for-a-laugh, meta project by an interesting and sometimes maddening one of a kind author with a taste for disguised bizarro. Whichever way you go this is certainly a lot more interesting, entertaining and rewarding than any other Scooby-Doo based novel you're likely to find. I always enjoy checking out what Cantero is up to. Consider yourself warned, or is it invited?

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