Minutes and Notes: Helmi
Attendees: Timmy, Alex, Alexius, Joshua, Gavin, Javin, Aaron.
We discussed Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic Where The Wild Things Are, and Eggers’ novel adaptation of it titled The Wild Things. Sendak is gay but made an official admission of his orientation in 2008. He’s lived with psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn for 50 years.
On the whole, the book club felt that Eggers, while a good writer of prose, did not capture the vivid and magical world conjured by Sendak’s short children’s book. Some members, such as Joshua and Gavin, felt the fleshing out of the characters and the “heavy-handed” commentary on war and violence killed the seemingly innocent charm of the original. However, Eggers’ biggest crime, some say, is his failure to capture the gay subtext inherent in the original.
Timmy found Sendak’s version dark and evocative, allow your imagination to run wild and fill in the gaps. He did not enjoy Egger’s detailed “deconstruction” of Sendak’s original. Like many others, he feels Eggers’ verbose writing style detracts rather than adds to Sendak’s much-beloved characters. When fleshed out, Max appears pesky and the monsters become unloveable. Javin says the events on the island are rendered meandering and “plotless” in Egger’s hands. Helmi calls them a “patchwork of incidents that don’t build on each other for a satisfying climax”.
Aaron spent much time explaining why Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is really a gay fable clothed in a child’s tale. Max’s foray into the island represents a gay man’s jaunt in Central Park where staring incidents and “wild rumpuses” take place. Alex is convinced that Max has entered a gay sauna – what with all the dark spaces and furry plus-sized monsters (bears) who want to “eat you up”. The wolf suit that Max dons, says Aaron, is a specific reference to the term “wolf”, which in the gay lingo of the 1960s, stands for unbridled sexuality.
Ultimately though, Aaron felt the books’ ending is a cop-out because it propagates the idea that the “gay life”, as symbolised by the wild forests, is not as safe, comfortable and desirable as a conventional home. Joshua took a different view – the idea that you can return home suggests you can be gay and still be part of conventional family arrangement. Alex/Alexis pointed out that a subversive power of any work lies in its ability to plant non-conventional ideas within a conventional narrative.
When Aaron began discussing Sendak’s style, the run-on sentences and the lack of punctuation, the discussion took a turn for the campy as Alex, Alexis and Joshua speculate (jokingly or not) that the circularity of the prose reflects Max being neither top nor bottom – but a flex!