Little Hands Clapping – Pretty Good, Pretty Gross

12 Mar

You know when you read something, and it’s fine, but you don’t know how to describe it except by rehashing its plot? Not so with Dan Rhodes’ Little Hands Clapping. This book has personality up the ying yang. What it might lack in substance, it makes up for in atmosphere and dark humour. This could just be the cover talking, but Little Hands Clapping is like a longer, grosser, Edward Gorey tale – not all that deep but packed to the rafters with whimsy and creepiness.

It didn’t take me long to get into this book. It opens with a description of a suicide museum, for gawdsake. I was instantly entertained by Rhodes’ gleefully wicked sensibilities (especially small details like the “crunch” of spiders as they’re chewed) and the way he handles a huge cast of quirky characters without slowing down the pace of the narrative. And at first, it was fun to wonder how all the different back stories would eventually be woven together.

But by the middle of the book, any reader worth her salt knows how it’s all going to go down, and the plot loses its tension. I’m not saying I wasn’t still into it, just that the book could have had a last chapter of Omigodwhatsgoingtohappen, but the opportunity was squandered by over-enthusiastic foreshadowing. I think he was trying to be mischievous by constantly reminding us how badly things were going to end for the grey-faced, long-fingered suicide museum curator and his partner in crime, Dr. Cannibal, but I think we kinda knew that already.

I keep hearing that this is not Rhodes’ best book, and I have no trouble believing that. The story may have fallen just short of being a must-re-read for me, but as a first-time Rhodes reader, I was just happy to discover an author who has such a refreshingly distinct style.

If you like your humour with a side of macabre (and a dash of dogs vomming genitalia), this is the book for you.

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14 Responses to “Little Hands Clapping – Pretty Good, Pretty Gross”

  1. winstonsdad March 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    must read this soon ,great you loved it . I m huge rhodes fan having read his other books like his quirky take on the world

    • Lija March 13, 2010 at 11:29 am #

      Yeah, you mentioned Timoleon Vieta Come Home (or as I’ve often heard of it – “the dog one”). I really want to read it. How different are they?

      • winstonsdad March 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

        tiimoleon viet is great ,lovely set of interlocking stories with the dog appearing at some point in every story .it is a firm favourite of mine

  2. youngsliterarylondon March 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    The hb of this is by my bed in my to-be-read-but-so-not-tube-able pile and will be my first foray into Rhodes island too. Can I get away with Rhodes island? Probably not.

    • Lija March 13, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      Sure you can! The pun would have a sad face if you didn’t adopt it and use it. (in other words – never let a pun go unwritten)

  3. farmlanebooks March 12, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    I have a copy of this book but can’t decide if I will love it or hate it. I guess I should just go ahead and give it a try!

    • Lija March 13, 2010 at 11:33 am #

      I should also say that it’s not all spider munching and dogs puking (although obviously, that stuff stands out in your mind!). And I’m not normally drawn to this sort of thing, but I thought it really worked. It was nice to read something that didn’t take itself so seriously, too.

  4. kimbofo March 12, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    I’m looking forward to reading this at some point.

    Did you know he’s just won the prestigious EM Forster Award, presented by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for this book?

    • Lija March 13, 2010 at 11:35 am #

      Nope, I can never keep track of the awards! Thanks for letting me know.

  5. Riff Randall March 13, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    I know I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover alone is enough to have me wanting to read it. Knowing that it’s filled with dark and twisted humour? Sweet.

    R is for Riff, for whom weird was a treat.

    (Apologies to the Gorey alphabet.)

  6. Riff Randell March 13, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    I spelled my own damn screen name wrong. Looks like it’s time to re-hash the ol’ alphabet books, indeed.

    R is (also) for Riff, who didn’t proofread.

    • Lija March 15, 2010 at 11:49 am #

      I think you’d dig this.
      Is that how Riff died? A proofread-related accident?

  7. savidgereads March 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

    Glad that you enjoyed this book. I did get some tension at the end because of ‘the other storyline’ which I won’t say anymore about for fear of ruining it. I think Gold is still my favouirte of his novels though its a lot less macarbe which is a side of him I do enjoy.

    • Lija March 15, 2010 at 11:51 am #

      Yes, there were a couple pages of fast reading, but I think it could have been even more exciting.

      It’s always interesting to wonder whether an author’s going to go for a somewhat happy ending or not.

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