I haven't read this since I was young but man, this scarred me for life and I wanted to in turn scar you all for life with the same...scar.http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/059038077X/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img
I had this book as a kid but it just made me cry. Now that I am older and more mature and can accept a book which is about people whose entire lives are failures, I can appreciate this more. However, parents, you can *not* give this book to your children! It will scar them and then they will talk about it in therapy sessions.
Basically the synopsis of the book is this:
1. Old man goes through life never learning to read, which is probably due to severe dyslexia (this is never explained fully but it's easy to read this in) and so relies on his wife to do much of the shopping. He seems to live a happy enough life, although I presume it was a hard one which abused his body, as his illiteracy would have put pretty much any intellectual, non hard-labor job out of reach. It might be a bit melodramatic to imagine that this man has a terrible case of the black lung he got from ripping asbestos insulation out of peoples' walls and ceilings, but I don't think it's too far from reality here. Clearly this man isn't *that* old - perhaps he's in his 40s or 50s - and I think that what the book is getting at here is not so much "old" in the sense of actually being aged but "old" in the sense of being about to die.
2. The wife goes out of town and leaves the old man some money so he can do some shopping. He goes to the supermarket and picks out all kinds of foods which he thinks are one thing but are actually another. This is a jerk-ass supermarket that sells nothing but jerk-ass food, I have to say. I mean, there's a bit where he thinks he's buying oatmeal but is actually buying soap. What the heck is this!? I don't buy a lot of oatmeal - granola is more my thing - but I know that when I do, I don't even need to read the "Quaker Oats" part. There's a big picture of a Quaker man there. If I was unsure that the Quaker man = oaty goodness, I would at least be able to look at the other boxes on the shelves, many of which actually show pictures of oatmeal in a bowl and/or scenes of people eating oatmeal. I'm left to conclude that one of the following is true:
a. The supermarket sells nothing but generic brands, all in generic-looking cardboard boxes. I find this highly unlikely, and even if I wanted to suspend disbelief long enough to think this is true, I imagine the following exchange at the check-out:
"Okay, sir, after those... purchases, this comes out to $23.64."
"Thank you, miss. By the way, I, erm, left my glasses at home. Could you remind me, again, how long I should cook this - " the old man holds up the box of soap - "- oatmeal for?"
I imagine him pointing randomly at a spot on the back of the box of soap - the part he saw his wife looking at when she made the morning oatmeal. Anyway, at this point, if you're the cashier, how do you respond? If you're a human being, you say "oh sir! This isn't oatmeal, this is soap! I think you may, um, have gotten your bags mixed up with... someone else's cart. Yeah, someone else's cart." (You would not be so mean as to thrust this man's illiteracy in his face, I imagine. You're probably the regular full-time cashier, someone this man trusts because he's been in so much with his wife over the years, and you know *all about* his unfortunate issues with reading.) "Why don't we walk around and figure out what you, um, actually, erm, wanted to have in your cart?"
Or, okay, maybe it's busy. Still, you're presented with this disaster in the making, you're going to find some way to help. Only if you are a complete corporate automaton employed by the biggest jerk-ass supermarket in the world do you just say "oh, 5... minutes. *chuckle*". I want to point out that this is probably the nicest of the three scenarios I can think of.
b. The supermarket likes to mix in packages of soap in amongst packages of oatmeal just to keep the shoppers on their toes, so to speak. Well, that and the fact that they want everyone's oatmeal to taste like soap. Have you ever just accidentally put your laundry detergent in the same bag as something you want to eat and left it in the car or wherever for a couple hours? Yeah. Total jerk-ass move by the supermarket in this case.
c. The supermarket is purchasing items which are deliberately designed to throw off illiterate people. "Hey, Marge, would you mind picking up some of that Guy Eating A Bowl of Oatmeal Brand Soap when you go to the store tonight? The regular stuff isn't getting the stains out of the wash. Oh yeah, and while you're at it, would you mind picking up a six-pack of Laughing Cow Standing Next To A Stick of Butter Brand Beer? The guys are coming over for poker next week. You know."
Jerk. Ass. Supermarket.
d. The supermarket is actively pranking this old man. Maybe the old man once was extremely rude to them and he kind of deserves it. I find this hard to believe, however, as the little old man is nothing but nice to everyone he talks to throughout this book.
3. The man gets home, somehow having purchased a wide array of things which he thinks are foods but in fact really aren't. One after one, each item turns out to be inedible. Here's the thing about this: first up, the man seems so *happy* when he's brought his food home and he wants to cook his spaghetti, for instance (which turns out to be a roll of saran wrap, I think). I wish there were images of this so you could see his unbridled joy... and then the severe, heartbreaking disappointment when each item in turn ends up being not at all what he wanted. At this point you realize that this man probably isn't just dyslexic, he may be actually developmentally disabled. And this scene is supposed to be funny. But it's not nice to laugh at the mentally infirm. Instead, you just feel for this poor old dying man who just wanted to have some spaghetti and then some oatmeal who instead has to go hungry the entire weekend (well, you hope it's just a weekend; his wife was just going out of town, I think... she might have been gone for an entire week).
Fortunately, I should say, they don't actually show the old man going about his business. Man. Now I have it in my mind that it was a whole week his wife was gone. Anyway, you don't see him trying to go to work on an empty stomach and doing a piss-poor job. I'm guessing his employer is already only keeping him on because he feels a little sorry for him. I imagine there's a scene where his boss sees the man in so much distress that he offers him his sandwich his wife made him that morning. The old man is too proud for that and refuses, so I imagine the boss leaves a five dollar bill sitting conspicuously on the counter, which the old man snatches up and gleefully takes... back to that jerk-ass supermarket, where this time he buys what he thinks is Chef Boy-ar-Dee ravioli but which turns out to be dog food. Oh well, thinks the old man. At this point he's starving too much to care. Down it goes.
I think the most uplifting aspect of this scene is the fact that he is alive for the one that follows.
4. Finally, his wife comes back, and, after hearing the old man tell her of his issues he's had all week long, she magically teaches him to read! Or that didn't actually happen at all. There is no way that the man just goes from severe learning disability to even functionally literate over the course of... what? A few weeks? It can't be that long. Remember, this man is about to die. In fairness, the book doesn't end with him reading Joyce's Ulysses. His wife, who, let's face it, is probably not a Rhodes scholar herself, teaches him some basic, rudimentary reading skills so that those jerk-asses at the jerk-ass supermarket won't be able to prank him so easily.
Seriously, is this a book you want to give to your kids? Buy it for your own reading pleasure, sure - it's fun to read a melancholy story every once in a while - but for the love of Mike, put this sucker up on a high, high shelf so the children do not get to it.