By Kane S. Latranz
The 15 interconnected tales in Reflections of Life in Our Town comprise author James' youthful reminiscences about growing up in small town America, despite the fact that the exact location of Our Town is uncertain. The majority of residents believe it to be in northeastern Ohio, but some feel that Our Town is actually on an island in the Caribbean, and one independent soul contends that it rests in the steppes of the Ural Mountains. One thing on which all agree is that it is located on the third among the 12 planets in the solar system, most of which accommodate Wal-Mart superstores.
The stories commence with the tale of Ilyosha, a normal boy except that everyone in Our Town feels an inexplicable hatred for him. When 4-year-old Toby Wilovic is trapped in a burning circus tent, Ilyosha dashes into the inferno. Thanks to his efforts, Toby survives but is so badly damaged that the town's people hate Ilyosha even more than before, and he storms out of Our Town forever. Rumor has it he's made a career for himself as a dictator in Latin America, where he continues to be hated.
When James is growing up, the primary source of entertainment for the people of Our Town is the justice system as conducted under the village elder, Grandpa Genkaku. There is the time, a la King Solomon, that two women claim ownership of a baby. Grandpa Genkaku has the babe carried aloft by helium balloons on the logical supposition that he will return to Earth near his rightful mother. When Tommy Fitzsimmons bursts the balloons with his slingshot and the child plummets into Lake Micuga, Grandpa Genkaku draws the only sane conclusion—the baby must've been born without a mother, and was illegitimate.
There are James' accounts of falling in love as a young boy with the mermaid, Nancy Wallham, and his dealings with Pitkin, the ogre, in this typical Midwestern town where a band of grungy angels visits periodically. They have dealings with an illegal alien (from outer space), and once the narrator finds himself among a band of well-armed school children participating in a war on Washington led by the foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, old veteran, "General Vronsky." That war ultimately proves unsuccessful.
"We never surrendered our ideals in Our Town, though. To this day, we still ignore the president's edicts. We still address one another as Mr. and Mrs, we still use the proper derogatory racial identifications, and we still make sure that no burger-flipper ever makes more than $5 an hour. Our Town may never make the pages of history, but at least we still have our values."
James lists Monty Python as a creative influence, and Reflections of Life in Our Town is a diverting, zany read, liable to offend those who don't recall something we used to call satire. In addition to seeking this book on the Web, you can find a copy at Burning Paradise (800 Central SW, 244-1161).
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