The Bear In A Muddy Tutu
By Cole Alpaugh
Who could resist a title like The Bear In A Muddy Tutu? Certainly not me. Then I glanced at a few sample pages and I was hooked. The beginning of the book was strongly evocative of Peter Hedge's What's Eating Gilbert Grape? with perhaps the characters of Gilbert and Arnie rolled into one. Not that I am saying Alpaugh cribbed anything. I just knew from the introduction of Billy Wayne Hooduk, as he ran away from his domineering, morbidly obese, piece-of-work mother at the age of thirty to become a cult leader (God) in 50 easy steps, I was in for a delightful read full of wonderfully twisted characters trying to muddle through this thing we call life.
Billy Wayne reminds me a lot of my cousin Harold, not really fitting into the world, not understanding the motives of others, underneath it all an innocent, but warped by his upbringing. Billy Wayne suffers a few setbacks in his quest to become God and build a congregation, but his big chance comes when he goes to Atlantic City to try to find members for his congregation there. When the Pisani brothers' circus rolls into town and there is a mishap when the human cannonball is thrown off course by a flock of birds which causes him to crash into the cages and release the tiger which mauls the Pisani brothers, Billy Wayne rides to the rescue and gains his congregation when he shoots the tiger. The circus is then ordered to leave and Billy Wayne starts issuing directions and leads the caravan out of town.
During the fracas with the tiger, the deaths, and the circus leaving town, Gracie, the dancing bear, wound up being left behind and ultimately ended up on the lam. Of all of the characters in the book, Gracie was my favorite. Sweet disposition, happy to dance because she was no longer with the mean man who trained her, but everyone misunderstood a bear, who by the way had no teeth, on the loose. Each of Alpaugh's characters are well penned and with a few words he provides the gamut of their experience on this earth. For all of their quirks and faults, most of the characters in the book pull on your heartstrings. Even the bit characters, like the janitor of the Atlantic City hotel Billy Wayne stayed in, come to life on the page and allow you to understand their plight.
While this book takes a dark look at the human condition, it does so in a somewhat humorous way. You can go from feeling sorry about the things the characters have to face to laughing out loud in a manner of moments. Alpaugh has skillfully woven a tapestry of characters together which pull you along - they become people you know and you want to find out what happens to this circus of misfits. Though the premise may sound ludicrous, it becomes believable and immerses you as the reader in the world created. While it starts off with the antics of Billy Wayne Hooduk, The Bear In A Muddy Tutu winds up being primarily about Lennon Bagg and his quest to find his daughter who was kidnapped by his wife five years previously, and is his reason for living. I don't want to go into too much of the book, as I don't want to spoil anything for you. It is a must read. I will, however, leave you with a quote from How to Become a Cult Leader in 50 Easy Steps:
You can nudge an elephant all you want. You can get right up behind it and put your shoulder to its flanks. You can push with all your might. But unless that elephant suddenly feels compelled to move, it is just as likely to lift its tail and shit all over your head.
So go get your copy of The Bear In A Muddy Tutu now!! And if you're participating in the contest by Regan Leigh, comment on the post on my site. For a peek at the prize, click here.