He Comes Up Smiling

August 13, 2012

It makes me a little bit sad when I read something light and fluffy and slightly absurd and I don’t like it very much. Part of it is that these books exist for no other purpose than to be fun, so it’s disappointing when they don’t quite get there. The other part is that I feel like there’s something wrong with me for not connecting with these books, like the fact that I didn’t have fun reading them means I’m not fun. I want to enjoy them — I try so hard to enjoy them — but the fact remains that probably two out of three silly, fun books leave me cold, and that I have a secret fear that that third book will never arrive.

This past week, I started with He Comes Up Smiling, by Charles Sherman. It’s about a tramp, which is kind of cool; you don’t get tramps as romantic heroes too often. And I found it really charming for a couple of chapters, as the Watermelon hung out with his hobo friends and really enjoyably scammed a barber.

After that, it went downhill. The Watermelon steals a suit from a man who’s gone swimming in a pond, and is mistaken for its owner by a passing gentleman and his daughter. But is anything interesting done with the suit’s owner as a character? No, he’s just generically angry for a little while and soon disappears from the story. And is the attractive, thirty-ish daughter who has both common sense and a sense of humor the Watermelon’s love interest? No, that would be a fluffy teenager with no discernible personality. But that’s okay, because the Watermelon’s personality fades, too, so I didn’t care enough about him to resent her.

The conceit is cute — the fluffy teenager’s father wants Suit Owner to disappear for a bit so that Suit Owner will stop screwing things up for him on Wall Street, so he invites the Watermelon on a road trip and contrives to get them lost on a regular basis. But the execution was only okay, and the characters were pretty flat.

I’m not going to tell you not to read it, because I suspect some of you will like it a lot — we each have things we really need to be done well, and things we’re willing to let slide, and for me, halfhearted characterization is a dealbreaker.

Anyway, it was pretty disappointing for me, so I moved straight on to Frances R. Sterrett’s The Amazing Inheritance, a recommendation from Cathlin. More on that tomorrow.

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