The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos is one of those books that I didn’t know existed until I saw a review of it on someone’s blog (and this is where I kick myself because I didn’t make a note of where I saw it so can’t properly the credit the person concerned) and was just so intrigued by the premise that I had to get a copy.
It is the tale of Ivy who at the age of seven, spending an Easter Sunday with her mother whom she adores if not downright worships along with the elderly Rumbaugh twins Dolph and Ab in their pharmacy where her mother worked as a young woman, finds out something rather astonishing – the twins have apparently “preserved” their deceased mother (stuffed her to be accurate). This is the latest manifestation of the love curse of the Rumbaughs – obsessional mother love beyond the understanding of most people.
Coupled with a talent for taxidermy.
As Ivy tells us at the beginning of the novel (out of concern that we might think she was being unnecessarily Gothic or exaggerating her story for effect):
I am simply going to tell you a plain and true small-town story about a family love curse that is so passionate and so genuinely expressed that it transcends everything commonly accepted about how love reveals itself – or conceals itself.
For it becomes clear as the tale unfolds between Ivy at seven and at sixteen when the identity of her father is more or less confirmed, that she is also a victim of this curse, and she starts experimenting with taxidermy in preparation for the inevitable day when her mother dies.
This is a wonderfully odd, macabre little book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Ivy is a wonderful character, obsessional yes but it’s not entirely her fault after all. The background to the love curse is told with great verve, all the characters are vivid and I read it in a couple of sittings, wondering what was going to happen (though having a pretty good guess).
One of the delights of my copy is the notes at the end, where the author talks about his inspiration for the story and there is some material on Oedipus, taxidermy and Psycho, all for obvious reasons.
A real gem.