The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, by Jack Gantos
You know, this is the first of Jack Gantos's books that I have read. I never read Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, or Rotten Ralph, and, although I am tempted by Hole in My Life, I am pretty sure it's the kind of prison memoir that really only attains its full mind-bending potential when read by a person already familiar with the adult that this jailbird grows into. The adult that writes the kids' books, which one presumes are less, err, shank-y.
So I kind of figured that Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, shelved in YA and given a kind of Goth / Marcel Dzama cover, would be something of a middle ground.
And all I can say is, unless there were some VERY peculiar rapes happening in that medium-security detention facility, I think I dove into the deep end.
Don't get me wrong, I kind of love the book. Set in a claustrophobic Pennsylvania town and populated with several close-knit generations of German immigrants - heck, if those people were Magyars instead of Germans, that would be my grandfather's family. Brr.
There's taxidermy. There's meteorology. There's even a little poison. And there's incest, just a touch of it. And somewhere along the line, a bell went off in my head. Add a few dozen more characters and locations, and Love Curse of the Rumbaughs is The Hotel New Hampshire. This is not a bad thing, and not a dishonorable comparison, in my view. Makes it somewhat easier to review, too.
In the context of "YA novel," Love Curse of the Rumbaughs, a humorous novel that includes incest, is unprecedented and difficult to categorize. But in the context of, say, "John Irving novel," I am on firmer ground. I can say that in Jack Gantos's latest novel, his first work of fiction for a young adult audience, he explores love and secrecy, using the generations of the Rumbaugh family to play variations that are by turns appalling, funny, brave, and lonesome.
It's a weird book, all right. But it's right on up there.