Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Adventures of a Dwergish Girl by Daniel Pinkwater

I don't mean to alarm anyone, but it's been eight years since the last Daniel Pinkwater novel, Bushman Lives! It's yet another indication of how this really is the worst of all possible worlds: Pinkwater previously had a string of five novels in a little over a decade, starting with the excellent The Education of Robert Rifkin and then running through a loose series of books set in what Your Commentator likes to think is a fantastic version of Pinkwater's own childhood haunts.

Maybe that left him thinking he'd told that story; maybe he moved on to more interesting things for a while. Pinkwater is a wonderful, unique writer, who I've read with joy and eagerness for several decades, so I want to believe everything that happened was exactly because he wanted it that way, and that he's happy and productive in that fabled Hudson Valley house of his.

 Anyway, it's been too long. But Pinkwater is back with another novel for smart, quirky young readers -- and all of us who were those kids once upon a time and can still remember what that was like. Adventures of a Dwergish Girl is not set in the loose sequence of Pinkwater's novels of the Aughts, but dwergs were mentioned in those books,'s set in that loose shared Pinkwaterian world, definitely.

It's not super-clear when Dwergish Girl takes place: the closest thing to a timestamp is that our heroine's parents left their woodland home to go into the Big City once to see a Gidget movie, when they were young, and decided that was not for them. If that movie was new then, and it's now around twenty years later (Molly is sixteenish), then Dwergish Girl takes place in the early '80s. If not....not.

You see, dwergs are a clannish, reserved people who live in the woods of New York State's Hudson Valley, near Kingston, and have done so, in the same ways and places, for centuries. They're small in stature, large in feet -- homebodies who dig for ore and mint gold coins but have only slight contact with the outside world, mostly through various "Englishmen," human go-betweens. They're not dwarves or hobbits, but they're somewhere in that realm. And they know the woods better than any human could; their small village is so well-hidden that no outsider could ever hope to find it or stumble upon it.

This bores young Molly O'Malley. She's cosmopolitan for a dwerg -- made it through a year and a half of high school in Kingston, when most dwerg kids drop out earlier than that. And she wants to see more of the world than the trees around their village, to do more than marry some dwerg boy and spend her evenings humming for the rest of her life.

So she tells her parents what she's going to do, [1] gathers some things, and moves herself to Kingston. She gets a job cleaning up Babtunji's Authentic Neapolitan Pizza -- which is badly paid, but she's going to live in a field behind the restaurant and eat mostly free pizza, so it's paradise for her.

Dwergish Girl ambles on amiably from that point, as it ambled up to that point, strongly narrated by Molly. She's young and interested in the world but not part of it, being a dwerg. Since this is a Pinkwater novel, she will not be the weirdest thing going on in Kingston that year -- and she will have to be part of the solution to a particularly nasty weird thing.

But a Pinkwater book is not about plot, or tension -- Dwergish Girl less so even than many of his earlier books. It's a loose, wandering book, following Molly as she makes some friends and searches for a place in the world that could fit the particular dwergish girl she is.

I wouldn't say Dwergish Girl is one of Pinkwater's very best books: it's a bit too loose and quiet for that. But it's got a wonderful voice in Molly, and a clear point of view and a sequence of interesting people and places to look at. It's a fine book by one of America's most wonderful writers, and it's hugely welcome after such a long absence.

And, perhaps best of all, there's room for a sequel, or another novel about someone else that takes place after this one. Let's hope that happens.

[1] Yes, exactly. Pinkwater protagonists are always deeply sensible, no matter where they are or what they're doing. His world is smarter and better organized than our own, on top of being more quirky and full of wonders.

1 comment:

daniel pinkwater said...

Warned by my agent and others who know more than I never to comment on reviews, even when you like them, but just to say that the reason there have been no novels from me for so long is no publisher would touch one. Picture books, yes, chapter books for slightly older kiddiewinkies, yes, but no novels until I got connected with Tachyon, an excellent outfit such I knew in mine youth. I am writing another one for them to bring into existence.

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