George Saunders is one of those authors I’ve heard other people rave about for years but never read myself. After rewatching his brilliant advice on storytelling, I decided to give him a go.
Drawn in by the amazing cover and title, I chose a single short story aimed at both young readers and adults: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.
I loved this book. It’s a kind of fable or morality story about a three-house village besieged by gappers – ball-like creatures that have a serious thing for goats.
This is the opening. It’s a brilliant opening.
Ever had a burr in your sock? A gapper’s like that, only bigger, about the size of a baseball, bright orange, with multiple eyes like the eyes on a potato. and gappers love goats. When a gapper gets near a goat it gives off a continual high-pitched happy shriek of pleasure that makes it impossible for the goat to sleep, and the goats get skinny and stop giving milk. And in towns that survive by selling goat milk, if there’s no goat milk, there’s no money, and if there’s no money, there’s no food or housing or clothing, and so, in gapper-infested towns, since nobody likes the idea of starving naked outdoors, it is necessary at all costs to keep the gappers off the goats. Such a town was Frip.
What a set up, right?
The story revolves around the three families of Frip who need to get rid of the gappers. That job falls to their respective children, who must brush the goats each night then throw the gappers into the sea. The gappers just come back though, which makes the children’s lives a misery.
It’s weird and haunting and also sort of beautiful.
When the gappers decide it’s more efficient to visit just one of the houses, the other two families rejoice and refuse to help. What results is a tale of kindness and community, but also a look at how humans treat each other in times of need. Which is, quite often, rather badly.
I should say that The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is brilliantly illustrated by Lane Smith, who also worked with Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss. The illustrations really work well and bring the story to life.
I read it through in about half an hour and can’t recommend it enough. I’m looking forward to a little more George Saunders later in the year.