Trippy frippy parable

Sep 6, 2000 at 12:00 am

A story of a three-shack village, some goats, a plague of sea creatures called gappers and a little girl named Capable, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip seems at first like a children’s book.

But then something happens. A few pages in, you realize there’s much more to this silly, implausible tale. A plague of gappers. Uncaring neighbors. The curse of poverty. The ideal of communism. These themes pop up, subtly and sneakily, until the story quickly takes on the depth of a contemporary parable.

Who’d have realized, at first, that this is much more than a children’s book? It’s not tied in with a television show, a theme park or a CD-ROM. It hasn’t got (and isn’t likely to have) fast-food toys based on it. And, most thankfully, it isn’t cutesy, which is the bane of children’s books everywhere, especially ones that are meant to also be read by adults. Instead, author Saunders serves up a healthy dose of dark humor disguised in a deliciously deadpan tone, complemented by Smith’s creepily beautiful painted illustrations. If you ever thought the trippy antics of the Teletubbies were subversive (and, you know, they are), you’ll find even deeper truths at work in this curious and grim contemporary tale.

The story itself is simple: Gappers creep from the sea and attach themselves to goats. Frip’s children must remove the gappers and return them to the sea, up to eight times a day. They’re too exhausted to do anything else.

When the gappers focus their attack on Capable’s goats, the other two families decide they must be better than Capable and her father. Comfortably ensconced in their new good fortune, they suggest it’s somehow her fault.

Capable, a sensible heroine, sells the problematic goats to take up fishing — so the gappers move on to plague the neighbors once more. In the end — well, go read it. It’s only 84 short pages.

If nothing else, you’ll find it’s not just a kids’ story, but a cautionary tale about NIMBYism, a parable about communism and even a warning about environmental degradation. Can even Harry Potter beat that?