I must have been writing this review in my head while reading this book, because I feel like I already wrote it. I looked on the blog, I looked in the blog drafts, and I even searched through my Word file. Nothing. Must have been in my head.
Why? Because this book is so surprising. At its conclusion, I would call it magic realism, but from a time before and a style outside of what we usually see in magic realism. Think of Beverly Cleary mixed with Half Magic and you might have an idea. Everything is so perfectly mid-century America until something happens and it defies reality, but just barely. Sort of like if Henry Huggins were a Looney Toon.
The book has also been called satire before, poking a bit of fun at the Midwest of the 1940s, but supposedly in a very genial way. The world does have that typically wholesome, gentle feel, like in Beverly Cleary’s writing, which can strike the reader as either nostalgia or wonder. I personally like reading literature from this time period, and it generally does read nostalgic with me, as I watch the boy Homer move about a safe town autonomously, riding his bike, tinkering with machinery, being helpful, getting into scrapes, and finding odd jobs.
You may have read Robert McCloskey elsewhere, as two of his children’s books are ubiquitous award-winners: Make Way for Ducklings, and Blueberries for Sal. As with these other books, the illustrations in Homer are solid and classic, enhancing the story and interesting to look at. (They are from a time when illustrations actually demanded artistic accuracy.) Speaking of this “book,” Homer Price is officially a novel, but it reads more like a series of rather long short stories. There is a sequel, Centerburg Tales. (I just put it on hold at the library.)
Out of curiosity, I did a little poking around to see if I could figure out why many of the characters had such heroic names. (Homer, Ulysses, Telemachus, etc.) I could find nothing, and didn’t see a parallel from those characters to the original stories, although their naming could have been part of the satire.
My son found this book interesting and, more to the point, funny. He had to wrap his head around the magical elements, like me, before he could enjoy it, and I think he prefers realism. But he liked seeing what life was like for a boy like him from a different place and, more importantly, a different time. This book took some getting used to, but by the end, we were rather enjoying it.
We read the Puffin Modern Classics version of Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey. The book was originally published in 1943.