Thursday, September 2, 2010

Me & Death, an Afterlife Adventure by Richard Scrimger

"Do you know what a ghost is, Jim?  A ghost is a guy who was a piece of crap when he was alive."
"But you weren't!"  I said.  "You were the bomb.  I thought you were the coolest!"
"I lied, I stole, I hurt people.  I let them down.  I was a bad guy, Jim."
I struggled with this.  "Yeah, but you were a good bad guy," I said.

Jim is a 14-year-old junior gangster who lives in Roncesvalles with his alcoholic mother and his unpleasant, sometimes crazy-seeming sister.  He skips school, steals, insults his neighbours,  kicks cats, and bullies a kid named Lloyd.  Nothing much to like here.  So who could be surprised when Jim gets hit by a car and sees the ghost of Tadeusz, who used to collect rents along Roncy "with a baseball bat", waiting to teach him what the afterlife is like for bad guys.   Tadeusz kicks off a Scrooge-type reform program for Jim, complete with ghosts, visions of the past, and important life lessons.  Jim's sure to emerge from his coma a changed person--or is he?

I find Scrimger as a writer is kind of hit-and-miss (as a person he's hysterical, if you get a chance to see him talk, definitely go) but this latest book is big-time wonderful.  It's emotionally compelling in a way that I don't think he's ever been before. Jim's voice is so authentic. You can see that he's never been exposed to any, shall we say,  alternate moral paradigms.   Scrimger's writing is always funny, that's his trademark, but here it's funny in a darker and older way than in his previous books. I think Scrimger is developing a wicked gift for characterization.   His ghosts are full-bodied, not flat like Dickens' are.   They have backstories and afterlives of their own.  And unlike Dickens' Scrooge, when Jim wakes up, he's got a lot more to do than just hand out geese and Christmas bonuses.  He has some scary amends to make. 

I sound like I'm doing a bit of Dickens bashing here, but I don't mean to. I love A Christmas Carol and used to re-read it every year before Christmas when I was a teen and a long time afterwards.  All I'm saying is, Scrimger takes the story, runs with it and makes it his own.  And I think he's done a great job.