December 9th, 2002

The Monday Morning "Waking Up" Double Review: Rescue Ferrets At Sea and Air Ferrets Aloft

If I had to name a formative book, then Jonathan Livingstone Seagull would be near the top of my list. Richard Bach's simple fable is a powerful, much loved book. So when's recommendations pushed a bundle of his two latest novels at me, I was quick to click "Buy Now". Unfortunately I'm not sure if that was such a good idea...

They do say that you can never go back, and Bach's return to the world of fable is a confusing and directionless one. Yes, the books are charming, and the message very much his early one of spiritual growth through an individuals dedication to skill. There just seems to be some disconnect between the message and the story - a square peg pushing firmly into a round hole, leaving the reader jarred rather than eased towards self-revelation.

Rescue Ferrets At Sea is a tale of heroism and dedication, where ferrets man the lifeboats and rush out into the storms to save animal lives. A young ferret gives her life to the service of others, and finds fulfillment in the waves and winds. While she does that, a celebrity reporter learns that there is more to life than glitz and glamour.

There's a love of the sea here, and a message about how we grow, but it gets lost in the description of a desperate rescue. It's almost as if the rescue is the story Bach wants to tell, but he expects us to want the spiritual side of the story as well. A near death scene with a spiritual messenger of light harkens back to JLS, but suddenly drops us back into the story at a point of miraculous, deus ex machina, rescue. There's no follow through at all. Yes, this is part of the problem of writing a childrens' novel for adults, but it's a structural flaw that Bach really needs to overcome.

Air Ferrets Aloft takes away from the sea and in to the air, with thriling descriptions of storm flight over northern California. Angel Fairy Ferrets are striving to fulfil the destiny of two characters who need to meet in order to spread the joy of flight to younger ferrets. But things don't quite go to plan...

Again, we meet Bach's love of flying and of aircraft. There's detail here in a several chapter tail of an old air freighter struggling through a storm (and may be a little too much detail about what can go wrong). Perhaps here too Bach should have left us with a story of heroism, of a situation where belief and faith bring a character through a time of trial - but again he over eggs the pudding and makes it all the result of manipulation designed to force the path of true love.

At heart these are delightful stories, well suited for reading aloud to a young child. But it's at the point where Bach tries to cross the boundary between childrens story and adult fable that he loses control, and puts his books into a flat spin from which there will be no recovery. There's enough message in the story, that we don't need a second dose.
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