Saturday, November 22, 2008

Drift House

I don't intend to make a habit of blogging about books that I haven't read but, reading Inkweaver Review the other day, I happened upon a book review of a type of book that I thought was long gone.

I seem to remember, as a child, reading scores of books that involved children (usually in England) being sent to live in big old mysterious houses in the country without their parents. It was a temporary situation but usually ended up to be life changing (in a good way) for the children. The reason for the exile was always due to some upheaval that was either never explained or that was explained in a way that made no impression on me.

The thing is, I've racked my brain to think of specific examples and I'm coming up short. There was, of course, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, in which the children have been sent to the English Countryside because of World War II. There was also The Snowstorm, by Beryl Netherclift. I can't remember why the children were sent to the country in that one. One of Noel Streatfield's books, Party Shoes, is about a little girl sent to live in the country during WWII. I know there were more, but I just can't think of their titles and the plots all run together in my mind.

The cause of the evacuation to the country is never dwelled upon, but the adventures of the children in their strange new locations are magical, either literally or figuratively. And the adventures in the country made the upheavals that caused the original displacement seem, somehow, more romantic than scary.

It never occurred to me that someone would use our very own 21st century upheaval in this way. But Dale Peck has, in his book Drift House.
The main characters are three children named Susan, Charles, and Murray. The story begins shortly after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. At the time they were living in New York City, but their parents, worried about safety, send the three children to live with their Uncle Farley.
Peck doesn't shy away from starting with a specific mention of September 11.
"After the towers came down Mr. and Mrs. Oakenfeld thought it best that their three children go and stay with their uncle in Canada. Although Susan, Charles, and Murray knew something terrible had occurred, the Oakenfeld family lived high on the Upper East Side, and the children understood very little of what was going on downtown. In the days immediately following the tragedy their parents wouldn't even let them watch television, so it's understandable that the children were mostly concerned—at least at first—with how the move would affect school. Susan, in particular, had just joined the eighth grade debating club, and she was quite annoyed. When she was nine she had decided she would be a lawyer like Mr. Oakenfeld: she had been waiting to start debate for three whole years. Whereas Charles, in fifth grade, was secretly relieved. He was taking special classes at a magnet high school for science, and two days a week had to ride the West Side train all the way up to 205th Street in the Bronx, where the older boys were more than a little intimidating. At five, Murray was only in kindergarten, and so didn't care about all that. But of course he didn't want to leave his mother and father."
I have no idea if this is a good book or not, but doesn't that first paragraph bring back memories of long ago books?

Predictably (if you were a fan of that kind of children's literature) it all turns into a magical adventure as Uncle Farley turns out to live on some kind of ship which has washed ashore. Of course the ship/house drifts away to magical adventures.
Soon Susan, Charles, and Murray are involved in a grand adventure that involves devious mermaids, a fearsome pirate ship, a huge whirlpool, and an attempt to halt time in its tracks forever.
I haven't read Drift House so I can't recommend it, but I find myself happy that an author would carry on in a tradition that I loved as a child. I did a little research found that and Peck himself admits this was his intention.
Shortly after “the towers came down” Dale visited a friend on Cape Cod who dreamt that the ship builder’s home he lived in had floated out to sea.

“The image captivated me, and I immediately sketched some notes. I took my cue from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—another children’s book set against the backdrop of war: the four children are sent out of London during the Blitz to stay with a mysterious, slightly eccentric professor,” explains Dale. “The children in the Narnia books leave their house behind, of course. Mine get to take theirs with them.”
Published in 2005, Peck also has a sequel out called The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage.

But what's really on my mind are the names of all those other books that I know I read as a child.