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FIGGS & PHANTOMS by Ellen Raskin


illustrated by Ellen Raskin

Pub Date: April 1st, 1974
ISBN: 0142411698
Publisher: Dutton

Except for her beloved Uncle Florence Italy Figg, a 4'6" mail order book dealer who with his niece forms the Figg-Newton monster (a stunt that enables them to reach the rare and unusual books on Ebenezer Bargain's top shelf), Mona Lisa Newton has no use for her kooky relatives. All former performers except for Mona's mother (Sis) who makes up for it by tap-tappity-tap-tapping around the house, the Figgs are without doubt an unusual family, well deserving both the scorn and the attention their fellow citizens of Pineapple express in italicized inserts. Take their ritual of Caprification, based on an ancestor's vision of heaven. As "each one must find his own Capri," Romulus Figg intends to look under the Niagara Falls but his twin Remus thinks Capri is not a place at all but lies in numbers, and Truman Figg the human pretzel expects to get there as soon as he can twist his body into a Moebius band ("I've got it just about worked out except for one elbow"). But Uncle Flo insists that the answer is in books (Read, Mona, read!), and it is indeed through a book, Las Hazanas Fantasticas by one Pirata Supuesto, that he finds his Capri -- for Uncle Flo dies, leaving Mona bereft and more withdrawn now than ever. It is not until she follows him to the imaginary island of Caprichos ("floating through swirling nothingness") that Mona realizes that she has "a lot of remembering to do, a lot of living and learning and loving to do" -- and is somehow able to return, to life, aided no doubt by the unique bedside encouragements (Sis' tap dancing, Truman's contortions, Remus' fractions, cousin Fido's guilty sympathy) of her frantic relations. As must be evident this is even crazier than Raskin's Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (KR, 1971), but the zaniness here seems more often forced than inspired, and though the answer to the puzzle is made clear when the time comes, the question remains elusive. Still a juvenile novel -- however unstrung -- that takes such farcical liberties with death, grief and readers' expectations is rare enough to rate a hearing, and the Figgs -- all mask and gesture though they are -- do come up with a few show-stopping lines.