by Nicholas Gannon
Nicholas Gannon’s debut novel The Doldrums has all the makings of a classic. It hooks the reader with the title (what exactly, or better yet, who, are the Doldrums?) and has a fabulous introduction that will leave young readers wanting more:
“We all know perfect boys and perfect girls. They live in perfect houses owned by perfect parents. They dress perfectly and walk perfectly and live their lives in the most perfectly perfect way. It’s perfectly terrible. They’re perfectly dull. So it’s fortunate this is story is about no such child. This is the story of Archer B. Helmsley.”
Archer is the grandson of two famous explorers and naturalists, Ralph and Rachel Helmsley. He has grown up at Helmsley House at 375 Willow Street, which, from the outside, looks like all the other houses on the street. Inside, it looks more like a museum. The halls and rooms are filled with stuffed animals from all over the globe that Archer talks to, and, naturally, they talk back. (The polar bear has a starring role.) Having grown up in a house filled with mysterious and more mysterious creatures, twists and turns, and having the Helmsley blood in him, Archer cannot wait to explore the world. More specifically, he wants to go in search of his grandparents, who were last seen floating out to sea on an iceberg on his ninth birthday. Unfortunately, his mother does not let him leave the house.
He befriends his next-door neighbor, Oliver Glub, (whose talents include stuffing his mouth full of blueberries) and a mysterious new girl down the street, Adélaïde, whose wooden leg, it is said, is the result of a run-in with a crocodile. Oliver, who would rather not have an adventure, agrees to be friends with Archer, because, as he thinks, “Besides, he reasoned. Archer isn’t allowed to leave his house. What could possibly happen?”
Gannon’s debut novel has the magic found in Roald Dahl’s stories, and is perfect for fans of “The Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket, or “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Stewart. Archer, Adélaïde and Oliver make the best trio of friends in a novel since Harry, Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series. If a Wes Anderson film was made into a book, this would be the result.
In addition to writing The Doldrums, Gannon illustrated it as well. Gannon first drew Archer into existence on a 2x4 while he was working in construction in up-state New York. Not to be missed, The Doldrums is a tribute to friendship, the imagination, and how to find adventure when you cannot leave your own house.
This review first appeared in The Clarion Ledger.