Reviewer Gordon Osmond : Gordon is a produced and award-winning playwright and author of: So You Think You Know English--A Guide to English for Those Who Think They Don't Need One, Wet Firecrackers--The Unauthorized Autobiography of Gordon Osmond and his debut novel Slipping on Stardust.
He has reviewed books and stageplays for http://CurtainUp.com and for the Bertha Klausner International Literary Agency. He is a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School and practiced law on Wall Street for many years before concentrating on writing fiction and non-fiction. You can find out more about Gordon by clicking HERE
Figuratively wrapped in the Union Jack, Londoner Oscar Ommayad arrives at Los Angeles International Airport and promptly displays his not-too-nascent jingoism by driving his rented car on the left (the opposite of both meanings of "right") side of the road. Oscar, a student at Brighton Film Polytechnic, is in town as an unpaid intern to film a documentary about the inaugural effort of Cartoon Classics, a new animated feature production company.
At the unimpressive offices of Cartoon Classics in Burbank, Oscar meets mini-mogul Sam Smith and a large group of writers, animators, designers, directors, and publicists who toil under the master's supervision. Equipped with a standard camera and, later, a secret one recording from his chest, Oscar tapes the birth throes of an underwater cartoon feature the title, music, characters, and visuals of which are in a constant state of flux due to pressures of budget, public opinion, competitors, saboteurs, and other factors that seem aligned in an effort to make completion of the project as difficult as possible. It's all very frantic at the end due in some measure to the fact that no member of the entire CC team, including Oscar, knows how to count, at least to ten. (A five-month production period announced on June 13 deadlines on November 13, not October 13.)
Oscar's substantial time away from work is spent at an English pub where he takes up with Lassie, a beefy behemoth of a barkeep from Ireland. At 6'2" Lassie is clearly entitled to be called the non-diminutive Lass, but she answers to Lassie, very much like the collie of the same name. When Lassie over performs her alternative function as bar bouncer, the couple relocates to a Russian-owned bar called the Hammer and Sickle, also known sometimes as the Hammer And Sickle, where Lassie is employed by its owner, Sergei.
Oscar's personal life is further complicated by very separate visits from his 15-year-old sister, Octavia, whose behavior makes Lindsay Lohan's seem nun-like, and his Auntie Mame-like mother. No Casey Anthony she, mum is determined to keep track of her daughter even to the point of traveling to revolution-ridden Senegal, where Oscar has fancifully relocated her. No, this is not the cartoon part.
As the real cartoon stumbles towards completion, Oscar attends a dockside auction where he successfully bids on a vintage Jaguar, the prior owner of which was the Duke of Marlborough, who didn't drive it much. In character, Oscar forgets to bid on a Russian juke box that Sergei had commissioned him to acquire.
Although no Sammy Glick or Pal Joey, the central character of Oscar bears many of the trappings of the anti-hero. (The author uses a nom de plume and designates his book as novel rather than memoir, thus making it more comfortable and less personal to identify the barely pre-cancerous warts of his protagonist.) Oscar comes off as a spoiled, irresponsible, and condescending pill. And crowning all of these unappealing attributes is a laughable obsession with Mother England and its hoary traditions, which is especially notable given that Oscar himself is the son of nouveau riche parents who come from countries, Germany and Iraq, that more pedigreed Englishmen have reason to resent.
Visitors to new countries can decide either to give their new surroundings a chance and add the new environment to the alloy of their lives or to value the new solely in terms of its conformity with the old. Oscar sadly follows the latter course, as he persists in his use of U.K. vernacular without the slightest effort to understand or appreciate the U.S. counterparts, haunts an English pub, beds another U.K. native, and initiates a somewhat pathetic attempt to expose the Cartoon Classics crew to the wonders of English cinema, a move that also enables Oscar to critique and re-cast the films according to his lights. This last effort climaxes when Oscar delivers himself of an eight-paragraph "précis" of an English film that clearly means the world to him but substantially less to others, including undoubtedly the CC crew and perhaps the reader of this book.
As Oscar continues to ridicule American institutions from Burger King to the Girl Scout Brownies—all coyly renamed of course—the reader may long for the presence of an additional character that could provide some counterpoint to the "one hand clapping" commentary of Oscar. Such a character could point out, politely of course, that the revered manicured lawns of Oxford are adequately replicated in nearby Beverly Hills, that drinking beer at room temperature and being a subscriber to the London Times are not essential emblems of being civilized, that referring to persons as poor white trash is not only not P.C. but also cruel and thankfully retro, that Laurence Harvey is about as funny as last week's bubble and squeak, that Sir Richard Attenborough took an iconic Broadway musical and managed to turn it into screen rubbish, that a Yank who isn't familiar with Peeping Tom is no more execrable than a Brit who hasn't a clue about Sitting Pretty, that there is nothing vulgar about having presentable teeth, that the words complimentary and complementary are not interchangeable, that in the opinion of some sane persons, cricket and knitting are neck-to-neck in the excitement department, and that Bob Hope may not have been perfect but he at least did not commit suicide as did his English counterpart, Tony Hancock. Oscar also has some fairly unenlightened views on women, gays, and fatties.
True to the form of an anti-hero novel, a substantial part of the tension in Cartoon Classics is generated by wondering when Oscar will receive his comeuppance, and in this department, the author does not disappoint, ingeniously having that comeuppance result from Oscar's own ignorantly arrogant actions. Also, the descriptions of bizarre action scenes are exemplary. (I won't spoil the fun by giving details.) Finally, there are bits of irony and understatement that are appropriately dehydrated in true British style. My favorite example of Oscar's "complexity" is that as a confirmed drinker of beer at room temperature, he eats chilled cereal out of a frozen bowl. As they say, consistency is . ..
Given the general sophistication of Mr. Twipnook, I'm at a loss to fathom why almost every character has given and surnames that start with the same letter. I stopped counting at sixteen. Even the names of companies are treated to this heavy-handed and overused device. I welcomed the arrival of any character that was introduced on a first-name-only basis and had great hopes for Lassie until at the end she's identified as Lassie Larrigan. Whatever amusement may have been experienced initially ferments into real annoyance by the time the novel ends.
If this well written, often amusing, and frequently informative view of the inner workings of an American animation studio needs a real hero, I'd nominate Sam Smith. Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, he manages to do his job and achieve his objectives, all with a winning combination of ambition, drive, vision, and, dare I say it?, Yankee ingenuity.
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