Lizard Music

Wereyou aware that William Burroughs wrote a young- adult novel starringEncyclopedia Brown back in 1976?  Orthat, in their prime, the Firesign Theater produced a whole album involving aninvasion by lizard-men from an invisible island?  Or that Roger Corman filmed, in only six days,a script by Roald Dahl based on a lost story by George MacDonald titled At theBeck of the Norse Whim

No?  Oh, that’s right:  you don’t have access to thosealternate timelines where such things are solid facts.  But apparently Daniel Pinkwater does.  And once upon a time he shamelessly—I repeat,shamelessly!—ripped off these great works of art in order to produce hisoutrageously absurd and adolescent-mind-corrupting novel Lizard Music,here reprinted in a handsome new edition by the impeccably discerning NewYork Review of Books, complete with Pinkwater’s own charming illustrations(no doubt plagiarized from some alternate continuum as well).  The fact that this reprehensible crimehappened nearly four decades ago, near the start of Pinkwater’s admirablecareer, is no excuse for forgiveness.  We simply must—

Waita minute!  I’m receiving a telepathicbulletin.  (Or my meds have kickedin.)  Pinkwater has no cross-dimensionalaccess!  I was wrong to attribute thismajestically strange book to other-reality sources.  Pinkwater fashioned the whole wild-eyedescapade himself!  Now I don’t know whatto say, except that despite any disputes involving authorship, you owe it toyourself to get this book.  Your lifewill never be the same.  Or maybe itwill, but it just won’t feel like it.

That’sthe curious plight that eleven-year-old Victor gets into.  Left alone at home for days on end, he beginsto discover that a secret society of lizard people have infiltrated the modernmedia landscape, with unknowable consequences. Aided in his quest for answers by the Chicken Man, an African-Americanstreet eccentric, he eventually finds himself hosted by the lizard people ontheir invisible island, where—  But I cansay no more, for fear of being silenced by the Pod People.

Pinkwater’snarrative voice—Victor’s voice—is tonally perfect and as droll as Voltaire’s(though Victor feels himself to be stating plain facts). The boy’s adolescentconcerns are skewed by a unique old-soul personality.  Would any other tween find Walter Cronkite tobe worthy of idolatry?  Unflappable andwise, empathetic and big-hearted, modest and smart, Victor is a hero anyoneshould be able to identify with.  Hefaces his reality-warping challenges with aplomb.

Olderreaders of this book will also enjoy a certain bittersweet nostalgia for1976.  A time when the whole nationwatched the evening news at the same hour! When a seventeen-year-old could be left in charge of her little brotherwithout intervention from child-welfare agencies!  When that boy could ride public transit fromone city to another solo!  Some of thisstuff is more fantastical than the part with the lizard people.

Finally,did I mention that this book resembles Gene Autry’s serial The PhantomEmpire, as filmed by Michel Gondry? That’s a big hit where I come from.


The Speculator

Paul Di Filippo’s column The Speculator appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review.  He is the author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, Neutrino Drag, and Fuzzy Dice.

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