Monday, June 15, 2009

Miss Hickory is Weird

It's just a weird, weird little book. I don't know how else to put it.

It felt strange from the get-go, with its cast of characters ("Hen-Pheasant: Sad and without pep....Doe: With God.") and the pair of "large yellow feet" that Miss Hickory sees out of the corner of her eye (she can't turn her head, as it is a hickory nut glued to an apple twig) as she sweeps her corn-cob cabin with a pine needle broom.

The story just gets weirder, especially when Miss Hickory starts talking. What a contrast with Hitty (and is there anyone on earth who has read both of these Newbery winners that can not compare the two)! The first words out of Miss Hickory's inked-on mouth set the tone for her dialog in the rest of book:
"Are you at home, Miss Hickory?" Crow asked in his hoarse voice.

"Well, what do you think, if you ever do think?" she asked. "I heard your big yellow clodhoppers, and I saw you pass by. If you think there is one kernel of corn left in my house walls that you can peck out you are mistaken. You have eaten them all." (p. 11)

Even though I didn't like Miss Hickory all that much (so hard-headed...not to mention prim, judgmental, and crabby), I admit that I felt for her when she was abandoned. There are several moments of deep despair in Miss Hickory. She keeps right on going, collecting berries and sewing herself garments out of leaves and moss, which is admirable, but the sad moments are never really balanced out by the happy bits. Actually, there aren't really any joyous or fun parts in Miss Hickory - I guess that's part of the reason I didn't like it much. There are some moderately interesting parts about fall, winter, and spring in New Hampshire, the bleak parts, and then some truly "wow, this is almost as weird as that psychedelic part in the first Willy Wonka movie where the rowers keep on rowing" parts.

The worst part about all of the truly weird parts in Miss Hickory is that they are just there - something a little disturbing happens (like on Christmas Eve, which in Miss Hickory has a few macabre parts that reminded me more than a little of The Graveyard Book), and you're left hanging. There's no follow-up. The plot is one non sequitur after another, right up to the surreal ending.

I kind of liked the ending (with its vocabulary word for the day: scion), once I surrendered to the one-weird-thing-after-another vibe - it's the perfect culmination to the story - but I don't think I'll be recommending this one to anyone soon, except as an historical oddity. I did learn that bullfrogs shed (and eat) their skin, though, which is something I didn't know before this.

1 comment:

Joel said...

Weird yes, but I was totally digging Miss Hickory for her sass and attitude! But the end, the whole still alive without a head and graft onto the tree deal...