~p. 226 of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, Advance Reading Copy (some changes may have been made to the final print edition . . . when it's released, which will be March 20, 2012)
From the publisher's description:
Calvin Moretti can't believe how much his life sucks.
To carry on with the synopsis, in my own words:
Cal is 24, a film-school dropout living with his parents. His dad has cancer, is depressed about his inability to work and convinced he's going to die; he is stocking up on survival gear and food for the coming apocalypse. Cal's mother is losing her mind over the bills, trying to figure out how to keep from defaulting on their mortgage. Cal's 17-year-old sister Elissa is pregnant, and his exercise-obsessed brother Chip has moved home, the only successful wage-earner in the family, a fact that he likes to mention whenever convenient. Cal works with an autistic preschooler, but only because his mother made him get a job. He wants out of this mess, away from his crazy family. When he gets a chance to hang out with friends, he takes recreational drugs and gets terrible advice from them; they're not exactly winners, either.
The opening line? "I work with retards." You will be all set to hate Cal from page 1. But, the thing is . . . Cal is so obnoxious that you practically feel like you've met him. You know a Cal. You probably know a family that has been through the kind of domino-chain crises that the Morettis are going through. And, as you get to know his wacky family, you realize that it's not the individuals that matter, not the immaturity and the bad decisions each family member makes and which add up to a big, messy house of dysfunction. What matters is that they are a team and beneath all the crazy is a whole lot of love.
What I disliked about The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac:
I wanted to thwack everyone in that nutty family, at least once (usually a lot more). James, Cal's dad, is heinously depressed and fatalistic, so you want to hit him upside the head to get him to just quit the moping. But, then on the other hand, he does have cancer and when the doctors ignore his whining, you want to give them a swift kick. Cal's mom can't keep up with the bills but their house is a three-story that's appreciated dramatically since they purchased it. You want to swat her for not being realistic. Later in the book, she brings home a dog to try to cheer up James and you have to wonder how anyone could even remotely entertain the notion of bringing in a pet when she can't even get around to paying the water bill. Elissa ignores her doctor's specific diet instructions, Cal takes drugs and keeps telling himself he's reached a turning point and will do the adult thing but never does. Chip is just obnoxiously fit and likes to brag that he's the only child who is helping with the household expenses (true, but he doesn't have to be such a nuisance about it). There's even a tragedy dumped on your head about 30 pages from the end of the book. But, but, but . . . .
What I loved about The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac:
None of that matters! Seriously, it's the whole picture in this book that is so great -- the fact that Chip sits at one end of the couch with his legs intertwined with his dad's, Cal knows he's a loser but he's at least thinking about trying to be mature, Elissa is a sweet and zen, and their mom may be stressed and a little too attached to the house but she cares deeply about everyone. There aren't any scenes with the family dragging in expensive take-out food; they make home-cooked meals and Grandma often comes over to help. They're in each other's business but they mean well. They're just so freaking real.
Also, the dialogue is tremendously entertaining, the writing surprisingly light-hearted, and Cal is bizarre and immature enough that it's fun to love hating him. He never does quite grow up. He'll drive you bananas. Here's what he says when his mom brings home a dog:
"She's definitely irritating enough to be part of this family."
One more passage!
I am lying on the floor listening to black metal. I listen to Tentacles of Whorror. I listen to Codex Necro. I listen to Filosofem. My mother has already come in three times and asked me to turn it down. I ignore her.
"This is the music of insanity," she says from the doorway.
"Then it should replace the cuckoo clock as our family anthem," I tell her.
See? Don't you love them, already?
Highly recommended but you have to look at the whole, not the parts. The little family in The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac is a jigsaw that appears to be missing some major pieces but when you put it all together, what you find is that the picture is a big old sloppy heart. And, it's in that underlying theme, "Love will carry us through," that you can't help loving the Morettis. I'm guessing plenty of people will be turned off quickly, but I loved this book. Also, I think it's worth noting that I was so entertained that the fact that a major character had cancer (my one can't-stand-to-read-about-it condition) never did stop me from reading on.
My copy of The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac was a surprise from Algonquin Books. I'm so glad they sent me this particular surprise! It was a nice antidote to the commonplace. I can't wait to see what Kris D'Agostino comes up with, next.
Since the Moretti family adopted a dog, today you get a doggy pic:
That's Care's Oscar on the left and Esther in the background. Oscar had just gotten a brushing. Didn't he look spiffy?