Monday, August 18, 2014

Returning to the 1970s

Reading Paul Gallico's The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun is like taking a step back into the 1970s. Richard Nixon is still president. Hijackers, not terrorists, are travelers' biggest worry. Even Gallico's writing style has a 1970s feel to it. The novel reads like a novelization of a live-action Disney movie of the period.

Gallico (1897-1976) once said in an interview, "I'm a rotten novelist. I'm not even literary. I just like to tell stories and all my books tell stories." Well, I wouldn't quite call him a rotten novelist, even if the rest of his statement rings true. Certainly he tells quite a story in one of his last novels, The Boy Who Invented the Bubble Gun, published in 1974.

The story centers around a nine-year-old boy named Julian West, smothered by his mother and ignored by his father, who has modified a water pistol to shoot bubbles. With the birthday money from his grandmother, he runs away from home in San Diego and boards a bus for Washington, D.C. He plans to go to the U.S. Patent Office, become an overnight millionaire and finally impress his father.

Also aboard the bus are a couple of teenagers sneaking as far away from home as they deem safe to have sex for the first time, a Russian spy, a high-ranking officer from the Pentagon (traveling by bus?), a dangerous criminal determined to hijack the bus to take him into Mexico and a Vietnam veteran named Frank Marshall who may be Julian's best friend or his worst enemy. Even Marshall isn't sure which.

You don't have to believe any of this to enjoy it. Gallico was also the author responsible for The Poseidon Adventure, another entertaining story about an unlikely grouping of people in an unlikely scenario.

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