In Spring’s debut comedy novel, a kidnapped man tries to solve a puzzle by listening to his strange captors’ stories.
Lewis Moody is being held prisoner. He knows that he’s somewhere in New Jersey, but he can’t find his way back home to Tennessee due to “mental blocking” from creatures called the Legends of Verbal Cartoonery. The leaders of these six-inch-long, wormlike beings, Orville and Erval, tell him that they’re willing to let Lewis go if he can find the correct clues in their stories they call “verbal cartoons.” Lewis tries to find a connection among the stories, such as “Derringer Tennis,” about a dangerous tennis match, and “Pinnie,” about a talking bowling pin; at the same time, he tries to work out how to escape on his own. He eventually convinces the LOVC to try bass fishing, hoping that they will help him become a professional—and, with any luck, attend a bass-fishing tournament held in Tennessee. Spring opens his novel with a “Warning Label,” in which he tells readers that unraveling the LOVC’s puzzle is “too frustrating” to attempt, but the book isn’t structured like a mystery. Instead, it wisely focuses on Lewis’ search for a way out of his predicament. Lewis tries to find possible allies among the worms, and at one point, he manipulates them by furtively using a modified dog zapper, which pacifies them. (He also references the bass-fishing tourney as often as he can.) The worms’ stories aren’t obviously laden with clues; instead, they often feel more like asides. Some are amusing, such as “Maurice, the Scum-Sucking Pig,” which finds its hilarity in literalness, while others are merely allegories, such as “Identity,” a short parable told by the female worm Kim. The novel, which also includes simple illustrations, finds its charm in a blasé approach that doesn’t call attention to its own peculiarity: Talking telepathic worms “with lips they borrowed from Marilyn Monroe,” it seems to say, are eccentric only if the reader finds them so.
A delightfully weird tale suitable for both adults and children.