Three families live in the seaside village of Frip — the Romos, the Ronsens, and a little girl named Capable and her widowed father. The townspeople of Frip make their living raising goats, but they must fight off a daily invasion of gappers, bright orange, many-eyed creatures that cover goats and stop them from giving milk. When the gappers target Capable's goats, the Romos and the Ronsens turn their backs on the gapper-ridden Capable. What will Capable do about her gapper plague? An imaginative tale by acclaimed author George Saunders accented with haunting illustrations by award-winning illustrator Lane Smith, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is an adult story for children, a children's story for adults, an oceanside fable for the landlocked, a fish story for loaves, and a fable about the true meaning of community.
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
is that rarity, a fable that appeals equally to literate adults and id-crazed kids. Its author, George Saunders, is a Thomas Pynchon-approved, three-time O. Henry Award-winning surrealist writer; its artist, Lane Smith, is the Caldecott-honored illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man
and film designer of James and the Giant Peach
. Nothing could evoke Saunders's simple yet extravagant story better than Smith's strange, painterly depictions of the seaside town of Frip, a place of ornery eccentrics and oddball animals. Smith combines some of the virtues of George Grosz, Dr. Seuss, and the Japanese prints called Ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating world").
Gappers are baseball-sized, burr-shaped orange creatures with a compulsion to creep up out of the sea and fasten themselves to goats, whom they love. "When a gapper gets near a goat it gives off a continual high-pitched happy shriek of pleasure that makes it impossible for the goat to sleep, and the goats get skinny and stop giving milk," writes Saunders. Since Frip survives by selling goat milk, the children must brush gappers off the herd eight times daily and dump them into the ocean. You simply must see Smith's picture of Capable, the book's plucky heroine, emptying her gapper-sack from a precarious cliff picturesquely menaced by subtly colored waves. You'll be torn between lingering over the gorgeous artwork and flipping the page to see how Capable will ever cope with the gapper invasion of Frip, her obdurately past-obsessed widower papa, and her dumb, mean neighbors (two snooty, boy-obsessed girls and a family of singers who are harder on the ears than a keening gapper attached to the goat of its dreams). This is a slim tale, but unquestionably one quite in keeping with Saunders's prizewinning books. The title story of Pastoralia, for instance, is also a fable involving class struggle and people who get snooty about the difficulties of working with goats.
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is a grownups' book, a kids' book, an art book, and a cause for countless happy shrieks of pleasure. --Tim Appelo