By Brock Fanning //
Jimmy Carter, “Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer,” New York: Times Books, 22 pages, $15.30.
In “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer,” former President Jimmy Carter presents the reader with an insightful, honest look into the harsh life of a single-parent family, intensified by a symbolic fantasy aspect. The tone is a combination of Swift’s simple irony and Dickens’ stark reality, and the style has the clarity of Faulkner. Carter has successfully clothed his theme, of the loneliness of the outcast, in rich characterizations, realistic dialogue, and relevant issues.
Alongside President Carter’s thoughtful story is the artwork of his daughter, Amy Carter. While I have only a rudimentary grasp of contemporary art concepts (Cubism, post modern and abstract art) I know enough to see that the several pieces of artwork in the book are meant as responses to these twentieth century modes of thinking. There is, in addition, a non-derivative sense to the work in its apparent juxtapositioning of Picasso’s modern style with a more primitive hieroglyphic style, at once synthesizing and contrasting the two schools and resulting in a remarkably fresh approach.
The plot of “The Little Baby Sneegle-Floojer” is simple, yet compelling. The young protagonist, Jeremy, is the crippled son of a single mother. Forced to use crutches to move around, he is unable to play active games with other children, and so leads a lonely life of reading and studying. His nameless mother, barely able to pay her bills, cannot afford the operation which would cure her debilitating disease, and Jeremy must watch helplessly as her body deteriorates.
This is the stage as it is set for the instrumental meeting of Jeremy and the baby Snaggle-Floucher, a fantastic sea-creature, outcast because of its ugliness. Like Twain’s Huck and Jim, the two form a friendship enriched by mutual loneliness and sealed by their ensuing adventures. Carter skillfully weaves together an atmosphere of companionship, as if their loyalty to one another were an unspoken assumption. This wondrous relationship shines out brightly next to Jeremy’s otherwise tragic existence.
The sea-creature itself is clearly a symbol for a more liberal welfare system, or increased government aid for the poor and sick. Before the introduction of the baby Snoogle-Flounder, Jeremy’s family is one riddled with poverty and disease, barely making ends meet, and outcast in a world of wealthier people. The sea-creature, however, changes all this by giving Jeremy some gold coins from a sunken ship, thereby solving several problems for the family that had previously seemed insurmountable obstacles. With the help of increased funding, Jeremy will be able to have a motorized wheelchair in addition to his crutches, and his mother can afford to have her operation, and possibly upgrade her clothes-washing business.
There are, to be sure, several unanswered questions left to the reader at the end of the story. Surely the scientists of the world would be interested in investigating the sea-creature. What kinds of experiments will they put it through? And what happens when the sea-creature’s parents find out their child has been keeping human company? Will they be proud, or will they become angry and strike at people along the coastline? More importantly, what will happen when the sunken treasure runs out? Perhaps this is the notion Carter wants to leave in the minds of today’s youth: when the Snuggle-Floocher’s treasure runs out, then we will all experience Jeremy’s predicament first-hand.