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Tue, 9 Mar 2004

Penrod

— SjG @ 4:34 pm

Booth Tarkington, 1914. Read as an e-Book from the Gutenberg Project by way of BlackMask.com

This collection of stories of the eponymous eleven year old and his misadventures feels in places like a much more precious version of Tom Sawyer. Like Twain, Tarkington seems to have a convincing memory for what it’s like to be a boy. The preciousness, however, is cloying in places; the flights of exaggerated description are a little too much. Coupled with the overt use of racism for a laugh, there is a lot in these stories that is offputting to today’s reader.
Yet … Tarkington gets some things just right. The pecking-order battles of the children, the coping with boredom, the dealing with adult expectations, and the ability to cause great disruption by not understanding social formalities all read quite true. And Penrod’s birthday meeting with his Great Aunt Sarah Crim near the end is an enormously satisfying payoff. Her cynical wisdom makes it possible to overlook many of the other negatives.

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