Friday, July 24, 2015

The Wikkeling

10yo: Mom, did you ever read us to sleep?
Me: I used to read to you every night.
I did. And so did Daddy. For years, every night at bedtime, three or four books, always topping it off with Goodnight, Moon. It was our thing. A cherished time that they'd surely remember forever.

You know. Or not.

But I'm still glad I did it. And I was reminded of that time when I started reading to them from Steven Arntson's The Wikkeling last week.

A spooky book, we checked this one out from the library... a few times. First the boy did, at my urging. I like to pick out weird and interesting books for my kids, to help them to stretch their reading boundaries a bit. He dutifully brought it home but never cracked the spine. It was renewed once before being returned.

Then I checked it out myself. It sat in the "to be returned to the library" pile for two weeks until we brought it back. A few weeks later, I happened upon the book again and decided that as often as we were coming across the book, it must want us to read it. Again, I tried in vain to encourage my boy to read it. He demurred.

So, when I had finished my lunch and the kids were finishing up their own, I picked up the book and started reading aloud, to convince the boy that the book was probably as interesting as it looked.

We were hooked. I read for an hour, and we moved from the hard chairs in the kitchen to the comfortable sofa and chairs in the living room. It was almost 100 degrees outside, but they wrapped up in blankets and asked for hot cider and cocoa. A good book'll do that to ya.

The story is enthralling; the images, slightly creepy. The tale, everything they love. An antihero (Henrietta) with her gang of unlikely members (Gary and Rose), a mystery and a Dystopian world where the houses all look the same, where children are constantly monitored and protected from experiencing life, where teachers cower in fear of standardized tests, where advertisements scream at people from, literally, everywhere, where the static, classic and unchanging items of our past are eschewed for the malleable, modern and instantly updating items of the future.

In other words, it's remarkably like suburban America.

The buildup to meeting the Wikkeling is creepy, and best read aloud with appropriate hushed tones and teasing inflection. The not-so-subtle undertone of the evils of conformity echo Orwell's 1984. The strange vagaries of the city (the Addition) and the old homes reminds me of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (which I haven't read completely but did spend a wonderful afternoon with a few years back).

We were left with a few questions, most of which we easily imagined our own answers—imagination is such a wonderful thing—so some of what was left unsaid was fine. The resolution of the conflict was a bit swift after the buildup, but I think maybe that, too, is a commentary on the things that we fear being larger in our imagination than when we encounter them in reality. 

What we can't get past, though, is the mysterious "IYCHMN EON," inscribed on the wall of a petrified wood turret in a fantastic old house. I tried to Google the phrase, but came up empty handed (I see the irony in this). There are many acronyms used throughout the book, so maybe it's an acronym? "In Your Cool Hotel Monkeys Now Entertain Our Nonna" or "If Your Cat Hurts Me Now, Engage Our Nibbles" don't seem to fit the bill.

The kids tried to untangle the words using a variety of code-breaking techniques, from unscrambling the letters and trying to make new words ("NO CHIMNEY"?) to a complicated and sophisticated system of numbers that could only be added together (you'll have to read the book to find out why) and then going to the page numbers they think were represented and seeking for a further code hidden in the pages.

I am convinced that someday, my kids are going to rule the world.

We still haven't found an answer, though I did reach out to the author via Twitter to find out what, exactly, IYCHMN EON could mean.

I'll let you know if I hear back on that one.

If you are a fan of creepy books or ironic Dystopian worlds that look strikingly like the one you may already live in, I suggest you check out The Wikkeling. I found my copy at the library, but I'm sure you could also find one at your favorite bookseller.

UPDATE! I received a reply!
Dear publishers: please publish this book! I need to know where the story goes. Please and thank you. 

This is not a sponsored review. I found the book on my own and I am writing about it because I really liked the book.

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