You Should Read This: Bigfoot and the Baby by Ann Gelder
Rating: 4.5/5 bitchin’ vans painted with underwater scenes
Recommended if you like: Satirical literary fiction with a dash of sci-fi
First lines: “Jackie Majesky’s unborn daughter knew the world was ending. To Jackie, that much was clear.”
Published: June 13, 2014 by Bona Fide Books; 256 pages
A review copy was provided by Bona Fide Books.
It’s 1986. Jackie Majesky has recently found the Lord, and her new church has her convinced that the end of the world is nigh and she has to try her best to save her family so they get Raptured along with her. Her well-meaning but bumbling husband, who is a cop, shoots himself in the foot during a firearm safety demonstration at a Lions Club dinner and has to retire early, so Jackie gets a job working at the local discount megastore, CarlsMart.
After a chance meeting with the founder and CEO of the company, the trajectory of Jackie’s life changes drastically as her angel-faced baby, Mollie, is dubbed the mascot of the chain’s new Christmas Every Day program, where CarlsMart shoppers buy gifts for others all year round, and the most dedicated Givers (determined by how much you spend in relation to your income) earn a place in Christmastown. Christmastown is a perfect, temperature-controlled prefab community built under a high-tech dome in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The dome filters out weather, bugs, and other undesirable things so it’s always sunny, cloudless, and 72 degrees, and even better, you are always surrounded by the most high-caliber people, because everyone who lives there is a highly dedicated Giver, just like you. It all works perfectly at first…until it doesn’t.
It’s satire, of course. The Christmas Every Day program is an absurd consumerism-run-amok trainwreck, and we’re in on the joke from the very beginning. (“Their values of generosity, kindness, and self-sacrifice had passed the most stringent test of all: competition through the free market.”) Jackie is incredibly earnest, though, and even though she’s a bit of a misguided fruitcake, she’s not a completely unsympathetic character. She’s unhappy and lost and in need of a purpose, and she finds it first in God and then in CarlsMart. <em> Bigfoot and the Baby </em> draws some really clever, interesting parallels between consumerism and religion (e.g., the Christmas Every Day participants are quite literally trying to buy their way into paradise), and it made me think Deep Thoughts about the nature of faith. Ann Gelder’s got skills – her writing is funny, beautiful, and heartbreaking by turns, and it always feels effortless. When I read a book for review, I come armed with a highlighter to mark the parts I really like, and I highlighted so much in this book. One of my favorite excerpts:
That picture of Jesus, Jackie thought. He looked too meek. How could he possibly bear the sins of the world, past and present, on those frail shoulders, already rent asunder on the cross? He ought to be a wolf with six-inch teeth that knocked you down and tore the sins from your throat.
You understand, don’t you? It’s not just science. It’s not just myth. It’s the irrepressible pull we all feel toward the unknown, the unsettling, even the impossible. That’s what makes us human. Don’t you see? I have been trying to show you people your own humanity.
I know what you’re thinking. Where does Bigfoot come in? You’ll just have to read the book (and you absolutely should) for the answer to that, because it’s so lovely, so well-done, and so hard to explain.
I loved Bigfoot and the Baby. I’ve never been a big fan of satire, but this book is sharp without being strident, funny without being hokey, absurd without being screwball. I was charmed, entertained, and amazed.