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Humor, Magical Realism

YOU’RE A BAD MAN, MR. GUM by Andy Stanton

This book is awful.  It was 1/5 star read for me.  I gave it 1 star (instead of 0) because there are moments of potential within the story where I can see what it could have been. I’ve also classified You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum as “humor” because that is its purported intent. I was initially excited to try this story, as the reviews on Goodreads called it “hilarious” and compared it to work by Roald Dahl (whose oeuvre I really enjoy). Sadly, You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum is in no way in the same league with Roald Dahl in style or story.

Mr. Gum is a nasty man: he’s mean and selfish and, in general, doesn’t care about anyone or anything. Yet HIS garden is

the prettiest, greeniest, floweriest, gardeniest garden in the whole of Lamonic Bibber

The reader discovers that Mr. Gum takes such extraordinary care of his garden because if he doesn’t, an angry fairy hits him in the head with a frying pan. I was all in with this premise and ready to follow whatever chain of events unrolled from there. When a big, loveable dog named Jake plays in his garden, leaving it a wreck, Mr. Gum decides to get rid of the dog. Little Polly overhears Mr. Gum ranting to himself about Jake when she is hidden in the hedge along the street. She decides immediately that she will save Jake from mean old Mr. Gum.

I expected creative, ridiculous, silly antics. And I did get those from You’re a Bad Man, Mr. Gum to some extent. The problem is that Mr. Gum is not written tongue-in-cheek, laughing along with the reader. For me, plot and character development seem to take a back seat to the author’s need to constantly show how ‘clever’ he is. As a theatre director I often tell my students there is nothing LESS funny onstage than an actor who THINKS he’s funny. I find the same situation to be true with You’re a Bad man, Mr. Gum. If you are going to play with words and expressions and absurd antics, you need to do so in a way that allows the reader to join you in your merriment–as opposed to watch you perform and stroke your own ego. This is where Stanton’s work really falls flat.

If you are like me and have treasured Roald Dahl’s books I highly recommend a much more worthy successor:  David Walliams. He is a popular author in the UK–sometimes his books can be harder to find here in the States. His stories are child-character-centered, full of verbal gymnastics and physical slapstick scenes, some wonderfully outrageous adult characters–from the terrible to the deeply caring–and all wrapped in the ultimate message of kindness and compassion(more subtly in some of his books than others).

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