Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Spectacular Simon Burchwood

The Spectacular Simon BurchwoodSimon Burchwood raises his balding pate again in another picaresque tale by Scott Semegran. This time, he is unemployed and newly divorced. After landing a job as a help-desk guy in a government office, he finds out that his ex-wife has abruptly moved with the kids from Austin, where Simon lives, to Dallas, several hundred miles away. Our hero is devastated; he truly loves his kids, and will do anything to get them back so that he can at least see them according to the custody schedule. As in Semegran's previous book,The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood, he cannot do this alone. Rather, he accepts the help of a guy he barely knows from his brand new job, a guy with horrible teeth and questionable personal hygiene, whom Simon calls Snaggle. They set off in a rented Caddy. Snaggle wants to play Slug Bug as they drive, while Simon wants to do MadLibs, so they agree on silence.

Is it my imagination, or am I detecting tiny infrequent bursts of empathy on Simon's part, feeling sorry for the socially inept Snaggle, being a bit more understanding of the various transportation and lodging personnel they encounter? Although Simon's pretensions to being a writer are relatively ludicrous, his pretensions toward being a better communicator and accepting quirks in others, which on the surface may just seem part of the writerly image to him, are actually becoming part of him in a deeper way.

He and his aromatic acquaintance barrel along the highway, soon picking up more assistance in the guise of Gina, a multi-pierced Goth student from Oklahoma, looking for a lift to Norman. Of course, Simon had given his new boss, as well as Snaggle and Gina, the explanation that his grandmother had just died, and they are going to her funeral. He ruminates from time to time about this fib. Complications ensue, and they eventually go through Dallas and on to Oklahoma, where more complications ensue. But Simon is starting to understand something, and his luck literally changes. Semegran handles this quite deftly; even though Simon keeps warbling his “It's true!” declarations at a great rate, the reader does not tire of them, because, well, some of them ARE true, and we see the progress he is making in getting a grasp of what life is about, albeit in his own hamfisted way.

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