Journalist Robinson cheerfully recalls growing up with a closeted gerbil-breeder.
The author’s father was a captain in the Navy, a war veteran and an academy professor. He also raised gerbils, as a hedge against future income needs and because he believed, as lab animals, they contributed to the common good. Because Navy officials would have frowned upon this strange sideline business, he had to keep it a secret until retirement, when his initial stash of eight “tiny, caffeinated kangaroos” reached a rotating population of nearly 9,000. Robinson presents a colorful cast of characters: her dad the “Gerbil Czar,” her acid-tongued mother, the standard-issue feckless younger brother, a cute but mischievous little sister and a too-smart-for-his-own-good youngest brother. It’s a scenario that could have been lifted from a 1960s sitcom, but Robinson invests the narrative with pathos, good-natured moments of absurdity and plenty of keen humor. The author also turns lyrical at times, such as when her mother bought Chinese golden pheasants, who were “pleasing to have around, like plumes of sunlight beneath the hedges.” As the captain’s gerbil empire evolved, so did the family. Her mother became more caustic, the author matured into a young woman and her brother rebelled against another gerbil-related task, prompting a chase around the farmhouse by his father as the family watched from the porch, lemonade in hand. Whether it’s Dad sawing wood in his Speedo—the author’s mother cautioned that he looked “like a French Canadian tourist”—or the many words of barbed wisdom from Mom, these recollections are entertaining and instructive.
Daffy yet sweet and affecting.