Tonawanda News

May 8, 2012

Eggers captures essence of childhood in 'Wild Things'

The Tonawanda News

— — Dave Eggers is an American literary giant. Making his big break with memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” in   2000, the author capitalized on the attention brought by being a Pulitzer Prize runner-up, networking his way through all   sorts of artistic endeavors.

Eggers was given the opportunity to write the new introduction to David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” which is among the   most important books published in the 1990s. He has started and continues to manage “McSweeney’s,” a literary magazine targeting   the 20-35 age group. He founded a non-for-profit in San Fransico, to help underprivileged children learn to read and write.

Yet perhaps it is his work on Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” that is most intriguing.

Most will remember 2009’s major box office hit “Where the Wild Things Are,” the 110-minute-long theatrical interpretation   of the classic children’s book that probably takes 15 minutes to read. While most recognize Spike Jonze as the creator of   the project, what many are unaware of is Egger’s participation in the film. The author co-wrote the script.

On the Day “Where the Wild Things Are” opened in theaters, Eggers quietly released his novelization of the classic children’s   piece, which he aptly titled “The Wild Things.”

While the idea of fleshing out a children’s book into a lengthier novel may not have been groundbreaking, it’s not often that   it’s an established literary author is behind the project. While the novelization may falter in a few areas, its core is kept   in tact, and the ride is still enjoyable. One wonders if that would have been the case had a lesser candidate taken on the   job.

Eggers takes a few liberties with Sendak’s work. The once nameless wild things are now given Americanized names, like Katherine,   and Carol. The reasons why Max feels like he must leave for his new, imagined land are made more concrete — they may be childish   reasons, but our inner child still resonates with them — allowing our emotions to better get in step with that of Max.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes is the happenings Max encounters while on the island. Readers are taken on an in-depth   journey into both the joy and troubles of the creatures on the island, who, while certainly plenty of fun, also deal with   vague yet intense stress and anxiety over something they can only call “the void.”

Plenty of fans of the classic have and still do hold resentment with the project, claiming Egger’s novel took something once   simple — a children’s book that evoked the reader’s imagination — and made it unnecessarily complex, forcing interpretations   on the reader.

Others appreciate this more realistic, in-depth look into the world of Max, and believe Eggers nailed something home that’s   incredibly hard for most adults to do. He remembered — and accurately expresses — what it felt like to be a child.

When children get excited, they get extremely excited. Cue the rush of adrenaline we as readers get as Max and his crew of   monsters wildly rush, run and leap around the forest, Max on the Wild Thing’s shoulders, celebrating their newly appointed   king. When Carol, Max’s closest pal among the creatures, starts to get intense, angry and scared over how his friends are   acting, or over “the void,” we “grown-ups” are brought back to when we were young, and emotions could flow over the smallest   occurrences.

As for “the void,” could this any better represent the general unease that surrounds all children — though some more than   others — over things they can’t fully understand? Children may not be able to wrap their heads around the concepts of divorce,   or unmanageable mortgages, but they can certainly feel the dis-ease that permeates a family dealing with such problems.

“The Wild Things” is a breeze of a read, and worth it for any fans of the children’s classic. While it may never have the   impact the original holds, an alternative perspective into the world, from one of our nation’s best authors, is certainly   worth the time needed to read it.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.