"The Neddiad: Now Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization" by Daniel Pinkwater

Come on. With a title like that, how could you NOT read that book?

I had a hard time trying not to laugh too loudly while listening to this book. Working at a library, I’ve become pretty good at doing this, but this one really pushed my limits. Usually, I find the best technique is to grin really widely, and just let your breath out a little. Then, keep grinning as long as you feel like you need to. This acts as a release valve for all your pent-up mirth.

The story was published in 2007, but was pitched as having a 1950’s nostalgia feel to it. Not having lived through the 1950’s, I can’t really say if that’s true, but it certainly seemed like it might be. The story is told by Neddie in first-person, and this is one of those instances where I believe it worked beautifully. The story reads very much like the sort of story you might read from an eleven- or twelve-year-old kid who happens to write very well. When I listened to it, I felt like Neddie had started off telling a story about his family moving to L. A. from Chicago, and then decided to slowly embellish the details as he went along.

First, he turns his dad into an eccentric shoe-lace salesman. So far so good. Then they take this fancy train. Still good. Then they run into Colonel Ken Krenwinkel, who is just slightly too larger-than-life to be entirely believable. This is followed shortly by an incident where Neddie gets left behind, and makes friends with the son of the famous movie actor, Aaron Finn, as well as Billy the phantom Bellboy… and things spiral onward from there. (While taking an airplane tour of the Grand Canyon they run into the nefarious Sandor Eucalyptus. See what I mean?)

What is delightful, I think, about the method of story-telling is that Neddie when he narrates is talking to you. He might say “and then I did this or that,” but then he turns back to you and says, “you know,” and you kind of feel like you do know exactly what he’s saying. And that’s nice. In fact, this is what makes the first-person narration of the story work so well: the story doesn’t feel like it’s being told by the author, it feels like it’s being told by Neddie. This may be the critical difference between well-done and poorly-done FPN. Not once in talking about this book have I been tempted to say “Daniel Pinkwater tells this story in this way.” Instead, it has been “Neddie tells it.” This is what makes “Catcher in the Rye” so good as well. Holden is telling the story, not Salinger.

Based on this observation, I am tempted to make the first of what I am sure will be many story-telling rules of thumb: If you can’t completely eliminate your own voice from your character’s first-person narration, switch to a different POV.

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