Review: Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island

September 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

A review of Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce

It takes a special sort of writer to craft a fairy tale that works for adults. In Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, Pierce has woven a finely crafted fairy tale that works on several different levels at once, making it a delight to read no matter what level of depth you’re looking for.

The story revolves around a pickle, Gaston Glew, who comes from a planet where happiness is entirely unknown. There are no birthdays, only “sad days,” and suicides are not only common, but expected. Gaston decides to act, breaking the existential cycle of malaise that binds him by building a rocket and taking off for parts unknown, driven by the motto of his favorite TV character Captain Pickle who advises everyone to “unchain yourself from this briny fate, oh pickled prisoner.” In doing so, he ends up on pancake island, a joyous place of constant celebration. It is here when the philosophical underpinnings of Pierce’s story begin to shape the narrative: can something that knows nothing but misery and horror survive in a place where happiness is omnipresent? Can it survive him?

The book is incredibly fun to read, and Pierce’s simple prose belies his ability to talk about deep matters. On the surface, this is simply a fun fairy tale, with a romantic subplot straight out of Romeo and Juliet and a lot of fun imagery. If you feel like diving into the meat, however, there’s a lot happening here that’s worth thinking about. Is the Cuddlywumpus symbolic, or is he just awesome? Does Fanny Fod (the most beautiful pancake in the world) lactate maple beer because it’s weird and unsettling, or because she’s an integral part of the world Pierce has created? Sure, Cameron Pierce can shock (he proved that with his previous book Ass Goblins of Auschwitz) but he can also rip open the underbelly of the human condition using very simply and elegant storytelling techniques.

The characters are fun, the plot and setting are a joy, and much to my surprise, the ending is quite beautiful in a way, and certainly earned. Occasionally, things enter the plot and almost immediately disappear without much exploration (like the history of the races appearing in the book, for example), but this is a minor quibble. Instead of raising dramatic plot questions, those things become added set pieces, and help the reader see the world that Pierce is trying to create. You don’t have to be interested in food to love this book, and it’s a quick and delightful read. Perfect for those new to the bizarro genre, lovers of adult fairy tales, or anyone just looking for a great commuter book. You won’t regret the sweet, sweet taste of Cameron’s maple syrup.

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