A wealthy New York City family hits the skids and is forced to move into Central Park.
Famously the staff cartoonist for The New Yorker, Roberts brings her strengths and whimsical sense of humor to bear in this heavily illustrated but lightly written novel. The dramatis personae introduced here include Pops, an inventor whose creations have made the family filthy rich; Mother, a bone-skinny matriarch with a perpetual cigarette; Sis, a young performer destined for fringe theater; our narrator, the sweet-natured brother, Alan; as well as servants Gudelia and Usvelia and three pugs. When the family loses everything, they mysteriously find themselves living in the midst of Central Park. Not quite homeless, the family winds up bringing everything, from their couch to their doorman, with them. It’s all quite idyllic at first, as Mother kills swans in the park for coq au vin, and Pops works on inventions like the Diplomatix, an effervescent tablet that teaches how to think like the French. But as Christmas looms, the family dynamics start coming apart at the seams. The illustrations, as one might imagine, are the book’s most winning attribute. Roberts is consistent in her portrayals of the odd family while simultaneously throwing in absurdities, like the sea monster Sis imagines lives in the pond and the Yeti that comes to visit during the winter. But for all the wonders of Roberts’ illustrations, the story is fitfully funny in a style reminiscent of Wes Anderson films. Alan is particularly funny, popping out lines like, “I’m learning Italian. This morning at the Met, I followed a group led by a female guide in Italian. I’m going to acquire Japanese, too, via osmosis.” Those who can’t stand the dandy-ish style of The New Yorker may find this avant-garde children’s book for adults off-putting. For those who value absurdity and have a soft spot for anthropomorphic animals, it’s a richly illustrated treat.
A tale full of juvenile embellishment aimed squarely at sophisticated adults.