Who is George?
Only Howard Carr and his older brother, Ben, can answer that question, because only they know about George. George is the funny little man who lives inside Ben, helping him (mostly) navigate life as a sixth grader who happens to be a scientific genius and who happens to be studying organic chemistry with students much older than he.
One of those students is William Hazlitt, a senior who has been Ben's lab partner in previous years. William's interest in chemistry has taken a troubling turn, and Ben has a plan to come to his rescue. And that's when things get complicated -- for Howard, for Ben, and for George.
Maybe I just read too many fantasy books, but when George first showed up I totally thought he was some kind of ghost. One of the ways Ben describes him is as his concentric twin, and that totally makes sense to me in the context of a SFF story. But (George) is not SFF– it’s a contemporary, and I’m pretty sure E.L. Konigsburg didn’t mean for it to be even a magical realism sort of thing.
George is therefore some sort of mental hallucination, a way for an uber intelligent kid to cope with the world (a way for the author to give life advice without straight-up saying “here’s what’s good for you, kids”) and a huge plot device.1 This is a very strange book, the strangest Konigsburg book I’ve ever read. I liked the strangeness! I liked that Ben is an unusual kid both for his intellect and for his invisible twin who lives in his head.
I didn’t like the rest of it, though. I think it suffers a lot from Written In the Past. For example, the antagonist and his accomplice are secretly cooking up LSD in the school lab. Another example: the terrible step-mom tells Ben she thinks he’s a paranoid schizophrenic.2
The writing’s also a little strange. It’s just very…1970s. In a bad way. Isn’t it interesting how you can almost always tell a book was written in a certain decade by the style of its writing? Like, 1980s books have a style, too, and so do 1990s and 2000s and 2010s as well. I have no idea how to describe those style, but they’re there.
Anyway: in conclusion, though I enjoyed the strangeness and I liked George/Ben, I didn’t like the actual story. I thought a lot of what George said was good advice, but he felt a lot like an author avatar instead of an actual character. Recommended if you like unusual books with unusual protagonists, with the caveat that it’s got some 1970s narrative strangeness.
Read: December 30, 2013
- Anyone else think the way he’s described as “a funny little man” makes him sound either like a pervert or an alien? ↩
- Let’s not even get into the fact that the lady minored in psychology and thinks that’s enough to diagnose someone without even TALKING TO THEM, let alone a sixth grader she barely knows. ↩