Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

Poughkeepsie is one of the great American place names - great as a name, I mean. Some places are great because of their image, or what has happened there. But a few are great purely because of their names - I could also mention Walla Walla and Oshkosh. I wouldn't say Poughkeepsie is a particularly crazy place, though I only lived there for a few years, during college, a long time ago. But any place can be crazy for the right people at the right time.

And any place in a Daniel Pinkwater book is going to be at least a little crazier and unusual than default normal to begin with.

Pinkwater has been writing books - mostly for people who are not quite adult yet, with the exception of the excellent Afterlife Diet - for pretty much my entire life, and they've been wonderful, unique things particularly well-suited to the kind of weird kids who read a lot and grow up to read blogs, think interesting thoughts, and live the lives they dreamed about when they were young. His books for young readers often tend to come in series, or clumps, or clusters - from the Magic Moscow books to the Snarkout Boys to the Hoboken Chicken Emergency, and including several things that don't have a name, like the Neddiad - Yggyssey - Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl not-at-all-a-trilogy.

Crazy in Poughkeepsie continues that trend; it's loosely related to Pinkwater's last novel, Adventures of a Dwergish Girl, which was also set in the Poughkeepsie area. (Pinkwater himself has lived in the Hudson Valley for several decades now, and he's generally tended to set books in the places he's lived - Chicago and Hoboken are two other examples.)

This time out, it seems to be the modern day, since a secondary character is concerned with climate change, but all of Pinkwater's books take place in a somewhat timeless, definitely unique world - some are clearly set in the past (mostly the '50s, era of Pinkwater's own youth), but most are "now, more or less." How much more and how much less is left to each reader to determine, particularly if she's wondering just how old Molly the Dwerg is, and if it's the same Molly in Cat-Whiskered (explicitly in the '50s) and Dwergish (maybe the '80s, maybe now, maybe not).

Our narrator, the standard Pinkwater smart, not-thin, quirky kid, is Mick this time out. Mick lives in Poughkeepsie, and does not think it's at all crazy. But his big brother Maurice has just come back from a Himalayan trip having successfully found a guru, and that guru - Lumpo Smythe-Finkel, originally from New Jersey - has been installed in the extra bed in Mick's room, along with his dog Lhasa. Luckily, Mick is in a happy mood from summer camp - he may be the only character in a novel for young readers I've ever seen who is happy and satisfied from his summer-camp experience - and he gets along well with his new roommates.

The guru, in fact, insists that Mick is his real disciple, since Maurice is now busy with a part-time job and community college. Mick doesn't entirely agree, but he likes wandering the streets of Poughkeepsie with the guru and Lhasa...and his life is becoming more interesting because of the guru.

Various odd Pinkwaterian events follow from there, more or less logically and absolutely reasonably: the Pinkwater world is quirkier and happier than our own, with some dangers and problems but nothing that smart and thoughtful people can't work out between themselves. I've always wanted to live in a Pinkwater world, and one of the great sadnesses of my life is the continual realization that I don't. But we can all escape into a Pinkwater world at any time, if the real one is too much or just because we want to be happy.

Yes, that's it. Read Crazy in Poughkeepsie if you want to be happy. Pinkwater encapsulates the smart-kid sense of a big wide world full of possibilities and neat stuff better than anyone else - does it so well even crusty old people can feel that as strongly as when they were twelve. Read this book, read Young Adult Novel, read The Education of Robert Nifkin. But read Pinkwater, and be happy.

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