{book} 9 Reasons to read The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

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9 lives The-Nine-Lives-of-Alexander-BaddenfieldThe 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

by John Bemelmans Marciano

illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Viking (Penguin) 2013.

9 Reasons to Read The 9 Lives of Alexander Baddenfield

#1  The Premise:

Alexander Baddenfield is a horrible boy—a really horrible boy—who is the last in a long line of lying, thieving scoundrels.  One day, Alexander has an astonishing idea.  Why not transplant the nine lives from his cat into himself?  Suddenly, Alexander has lives to spare, and goes about using them up, attempting the most outrageous feats he can imagine.  Only when his lives start running out, and he is left with only one just like everyone else, does he realize how reckless he has been. (publisher’s comments)

I felt sure that between the jacket copy and the illustrator, I was going to like this one. It was going to be deliciously dark and, thus, right up my alley. [#2 It is deliciously dark, by the way.] While there was some concern that the clever narrator would be a bit too much, I knew I would love this read after page 2. The reason why:

“But now you say to yourself, “Aha! I know: The twist is that the boy is not really dead. It says it right there in the title–Alexander has nine lives. he will be reborn, again and again, so that by his ninth life this awful child will have learned his lesson. His heart will fill with love for his fellow man, and he will become a Not-So-Baddenfield, or even a Goodenfield, and he will turn all his money over to the poor and dedicate his final life to charitable good works.

“If this were a  Hollywood movie, or a fairy tale, or a run-of-the-mill chapter book, this would undoubtedly be the case. But in the real world such things rarely happen. The truth of the matter is that Alexander Baddenfield used up all nine of his lives without the least bit of remorse or redemption, because Alexander Baddenfield only ever cared about one thing: himself.” (2-3)

John Bemelmans Marciano earns major points with me for consistency of character.

#3  Like his Baddenfield men before him, will die “in particularly grisly and poetically justified ways” (8). The tricky thing about the book, of course, is: how to kill of a child character and still maintain the resulting exclamation: what an entertaining book! I’m still laughing about _____! [I could be heard saying these things as I was encouraging Natalya to take a break from Virgin Suicides to give it a go.] It doesn’t hurt that Alexander is really and truly horrible. Two, there are quite a few fantastical elements. Three, if Edward Gorey can do it…

9 lives tumblr_mtdo49ZDT91r0yglfo1_250

Marciano was evidently up to the challenge. And in case, you aren’t a reader of Grimm or Gorey, the author offers a disclaimer, a dare and a tantalizer:

“Warning to All Readers : You are about to embark on a tale that recounts the sometimes gruesome deaths of a young boy, and his not always pleasant rebirths. If you are squeamish, sentimental, or faint of heart, I suggest that you turn back now. You have hopefully enjoyed the story so far. Why not quiet while you are ahead?”

It is nicely done, a black page and a skull and cross bones. #4 His sense of humor is spot-on for this sort of storytelling.

#5 The 9 Lives is as much about Winterbottom as it is about Alexander. A Winterbottom has served a Baddenfield “since time immemorial” (2), and how does one suffer such horrible human beings; further, how does one stick around to watch him self-destruct x9? Here is the heart that functions as the foil to Alexander’s heartlessness. Here is the helicopter parent to Alexander’s extreme risk-taking. What I can’t say is: Here is the perfection to Alexander’s imperfection–and I am glad to be unable to say it.

9 lives stroller.final

#6 Sophie Blackall’s illustrations. You know by now that I am a fan of Blackall’s work, but I wasn’t sure about the sweetened edge to her illustrations would do in a book full of horribleness. The rounded over sharp, skritched carvings of characters lend a deceptive sweetness that makes a glaring Alexander all the more awful…and humorous. Blackall’s charming illustrations make the macabre turns surprisingly all the more disturbing.

#7 Mention of Thomas Pynchon on page 36. another reason why juvenile fiction can be enjoyed by the well-read grown-ups in the family.

#8 The book itself is having fun. Besides the great illustrations and entertaining narrator, the text is manipulated and lives are counted down via eyeballs. Chapters are as long as they need to be, and the re-write of history in chapter two is perfectly paced and hilariously re-imagined (my favorite may be the Boston Tea Party); and such is what you can expect in following chapters–unexpected takes that are highly comedic.

#9 “The End” wherein the narrative shifts, and we get two amusing pages of text before that closing full-page illustration. It is a truly delightful ending to a marvelously entertaining book!

{images belong to Sophie Blackall}

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Hooray! You may be the first grown up, (other than close friends and family, the discerning publishers and people on our payroll) to fully appreciate Alexander. You’ve made my day. Thank you!

  2. Man, I wish my library had this one… I love the premise and the promise that Baddenfield lives all 9 without an ounce of remorse. Gonna have to search harder to find this one.

  3. Yes, Sophie Blackall’s work is always great. It is in that Edward Gorey family that I love so much. This one is also going on the wishlist! You are a bad person, L. 😉

  4. L says:

    yes, yes, I am, Carl! Actually, I’ve been thinking about a RIP giveaway for the younger set next Fall. we’ll see, but this one will be part of it.

  5. I would love to win a copy of this book.

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