Josiah's Reviews > Figgs & Phantoms

Figgs & Phantoms by Ellen Raskin
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's review
Jun 04, 2011

it was ok
Read from June 03 to 04, 2011

Well now, this certainly is something different. Author Ellen Raskin has been known for decades as someone willing to tinker a little bit with the standard novel structure, telling her stories in ways that don't always stick to conventional print techniques. Her greatest triumph in this vein was probably The Westing Game, winner of the 1979 Newbery Medal, but Figgs & Phantoms has its moments of innovative storytelling that clearly mark Ellen Raskin as the intelligent writer that she was.

The novel is centered on the doings of the Figg and Newton families, which intermarried a generation or two back and are now seen by the other residents of the town of Pineapple as being more or less one big family. They are a show business bunch, mostly, though Mona, the main character in the book, and her Uncle Florence, who has retired from performing, have their own outside interest as collectors of rare first edition books, and they'll go to some zany extremes to get their hands on the hard-to-find copies.

Mona's family is a generally odd group, for sure, but ever since her Uncle Florence has begun looking unwell as of late, a particularly unusual Figg concept has been high up in the family's thinking. When Figgs die they say that they are going to a place called "Capri"; they don't know how to get there or even for sure what it will be like when they arrive, but arrive they surely will, since no Figg reaches the end of this life without finding this esoteric "Capri." The family members all spend most of their individual lives trying to discover their own paths to "Capri", but there will be no reaching the ultimate solution until the right time has come for each of them.

All of the Figgs and Newtons are worried about Uncle Florence, who is loved by everyone (even the Pineapple townsfolk are fond of him, whereas they barely tolerate most of the family), but Mona is worried most of all. She shares much more in common with Florence than with her parents or anyone else in the family, and she's not ready to say goodbye to her uncle and let him meet the final embrace of his own personal "Capri." She still needs him very much in her life right here, and she's determined not to let him go to the other side.

What Mona doesn't know is that she is about to find out some of the realities of the esoteric "Capri" for herself, and in the very near future. She won't be able to find out everything about the mysterious place while she remains on this side of the living, but she is about to embark on an unforgettable adventure that will show her more about "Capri" than any living Figg has ever known before.

Figgs & Phantoms is a remarkably strange book, in many ways. It's often hard to tell whether what's happening in the story is supposed to be more on the funny or sad side, but I guess that's a good reflection of real life, at times. Not every occurrence that one encounters in life will fall into one category or the other, and it can sometimes be difficult to ever completely understand the deeper realties of one's own life. Figgs & Phantoms is an interesting story on the whole, worth reading for anyone who likes quirky, offbeat novels that teach the reader to always expect the unexpected.

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06/03/2011 page 12
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