Friday, December 29, 2006

Reader's Diary #211- Heather O'Neill: Lullabies for Little Criminals (up to p. 105)

Lullabies For Little Criminals, with Natasha and Other Stories, are the two Harper Perennial books found in the upcoming Canada Reads on CBC. For those of you who haven't picked up copies yet, look closely at the bottom right-hand corner of the cover of these books for the P.S..

According to the Harper Perennial's website, these P.S.s (post-scripts, maybe?) are meant to mimic the "extras" found on DVDs. Unlike DVD extras however, I actually enjoy these (though I doubt they'll make any difference to the book sales). These book extras include things like interviews, author-recommended books, and bios.

I bring it up now because I sort of cheated and skipped to O'Neill's P.S. before finishing the book (luckily there are no spoilers). She's an interesting woman, no doubt about, but unfortunately she did support a theory I've had for some time: if I want my children to grow up to be artists, I need to start being mean to them and divorce their mom. Oh well, I hope they'll be happy with manual labour.

That's all off topic of course. Getting back to the book at hand, I am enjoying it. But then, who doesn't enjoy a good old fashioned heroin tale, am I right? Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, ah. I gost ta get me some schmack. And gee whiz, future employers, can't a guy make a drug joke from time to time?

One of the best things I like about Lullabies so far, is the strength O'Neill has given the children in the book. Furthermore, the strength comes from their imaginations essentially. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that an author should see the value in imagination, but I don't think the world at large does. The majority of adults don't seem to have a problem with children's imagination per se, but I don't think they take it seriously either- basically it's considered frivolous. Yet Baby, O'Neill's 12 year old protagonist, uses her imagination to keep her sane and optimistic in a world that would crush most adults (including her father). And it's nothing extravagant either- she hasn't given Baby a collection of imaginary friends, she doesn't go off on Walter Mitty like daydreams, and she doesn't come across as ridiculously naive, yet she remains optimistic, she loves her dad despite his obvious flaws, and copes. As I write this I realize that maybe it isn't imagination at all- it's just a positive outlook on life. Either way, it's something more common to children than to adults. There's one chapter in which Baby recounts being teased, mostly about her bizarre father but also about her looks, name and so on. It's pretty merciless and relentless, yet she ends the chapter by saying how the treatment made her go off and read by herself, write a book report and get 100%. It made her feel good, "Not great, of course, but it made [her] feel calmer." And that showcases her personality quite well.

Yet, the brilliance of O'Neill's work (asides from insanely funny wit), is O'Neill's choice of placing Baby at twelve- the "doorstep," according to her, of adulthood. Now we see the coping mechanisms begin to crumble- she wants to try drugs, begins to dwell on the negative and so forth. Several times she makes comments about how sad it is when a childhood slips away (or you are booted from it), and you begin to see why.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am strangely pleased that you are enjoying this book. I think I may have mentioned a short story of O'Neill's that I enjoyed so much, and I wish the same humour and cleverness for this book.

Thanks for giving us a rundown thus far.