“The Wild Things” by Dave Eggers

I recently saw Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, and appreciated its complex, nuanced takes on the mother/son relationship and how baffling it is to be a child. When C., the second in command at Big Brain Comics, recommended the novelization The Wild Things, I was skeptical. I’m a book snob; we snobs don’t read movie novelizations. Yet this one is by Dave Eggers, editor of McSweeney’s, author of several books, co-founder of a national network of youth writing and tutoring centers, and co-author (with Jonze) of the film’s screenplay. It was part of a sale, so I was easily swayed and decided to give it a go.

The book, like the movie, is an imaginative expansion of the popular, enduring children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Max is the spirited son of a single mother. He doesn’t like his mother’s new boyfriend, and his teenage sister has become distant and unkind. After a particularly violent outburst, he runs away and finds a boat:

Max sailed in and out of days and nights. He endured blustery winds, cruel winds, chattering winds, and warm blanketing breezes. There were waves like dragons and waves like sparrows. There was rain but mostly there was sun, the terribly unimaginative sun, doing the same things day in and day out…

But one day he saw something. A green blot on the horizon, no bigger than a caterpillar…

When he awoke, the caterpillar had become an island…vibrating with color and sound. (p. 95-7)

On the island, Max meets the group of wild things, and becomes their king. As he gets to know the island and its denizens, though, he finds life as a wild thing is more difficult than he’d imagined.

If you liked the movie, you’ll likely appreciate the book. If you didn’t care for the movie, you should probably skip The Wild Things. As with the movie, I enjoyed Max’s sojourn with the wild things more than I did the modern-world scenes at the beginning and end. The prose is simple and straightforward, and would be good for young readers of longer, non-illustrated chapter books. In places it hews closely to the movie but in others it departs. Overall it’s more of a collection of compelling scenes rather than a narrative with forward momentum. In the acks at the back, Eggers states it’s an amalgam of Sendak’s, Jones’ and his own childhood experiences.

As with all McSweeney’s books, it’s a striking edition whether covered in illustrated cloth or fur.

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