After recently reading a fiction piece in The New Yorker titled Max At Sea, I am officially intrigued, if not perplexed, by Dave Eggers. I have followed his progression from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, to his internet publication McSweeney’s, to his recent Away We Go venture on the big screen, and wonder if the man has time to sleep. If you follow Mr. Eggers, it is also likely that you are aware of his incredible and tireless humanitarian efforts and drive to increase literacy among children; to all of these pursuits I tip my hat. That being said, I did find myself searching for words to articulate my reaction to the peculiar Max At Sea piece which is based on Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are.
In Egger’s version, Max is the product of an absentee father. He resides with his mother, her “chinless boyfriend” Gary, and his sister Claire upon whom he wishes death by “flesh-eating tapeworms”. Actually, Max wishes all of them serious bodily harm which seems a touch more extreme than the “mischief” referred to in Sendak’s version (think messy bedrooms and empty cookie boxes). Once modern Max puts on his wolf suit, shouts “Arrrooooooo!” from atop the kitchen counter and proceeds to bite his mother, he’s off like a shot. Though the story continues from there, this is enough to give you the gist of my angst.
Now, I’m all for growth and creative expansion, however, as some things are better left unsaid, so too are some things better left unwritten. When I think of Where the Wild Things Are, I think of that sweetly dark, mysterious, quirky book that still conjures up images of oafish monsters and deep dark seas. It holds within it an innocent theme of escapism that we can all still happily relate to. However, my disappointment in Mr. Egger’s version is rooted in his attempt to demystify something that has stayed pure for the last forty-six years.
The beauty of the story lies in letting the individual imagination take flight (without commercial interruption), and until now, Where the Wild Things Are was one of those precious few childhood gems that had remained untainted and unspoiled. Alas, now that Max has been strapped with a load of contemporary baggage, it is unlikely that I will ever be able to look at him with quite the same eye. Dave Egger’s interpretation is interesting at best, but sadly, we will all go down with Max’s boat.The movie Where the Wild Things Are is slated for release this coming October. Do yourself and your kids a favor and read the book first.
Max At Sea appeared in the Aug. 24 edition of the New Yorker.
-By Megan Shaffer