Sunday, May 19, 2013


Holes by Louis Sachar weaves us in and out of a reality that seems at best far-fetched, stitching together a story that spans generations, with coincidences piled upon coincidences.  And yet, this storytelling is done so incredibly well that our ability to believe is not once in question.  We, as readers, are simply along for the ride, willing to accept anything put forward to us.  Why? Perhaps because this is the essence of a good tale, one that almost defies description or categorization.  We are left to ponder whether this is a folktale, a fable, a fairytale, a story of fantasy, a tall tale or something entirely different.  It is hard to categorize and yet, this does not bother us.  We are thrilled with the storytelling and are willing to embrace all of its quirks.Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the novel (at least for me), was the narrator’s voice, and the fact that at certain times (particularly at the beginning and end of the novel), the narrator would actually acknowledge the reader’s existence.   Even more interesting, the narrator would sometimes choose to use the second person to speak directly to us and at other times would use the third person to talk about us.

When speaking to us, in the second person, we are drawn into the story, so that in some ways, we become participants in the story itself.  For example, in the beginning, the narrator provides some advice about rattlesnakes, stating the following:  “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.  Usually.” Right from this moment, we are participants in the story, in possible danger of being bitten, perhaps by a rattlesnake, or perhaps, we are warned in the following paragraphs, by a yellow-spotted lizard, in which case “you might as well go into the shade of the oak trees and lie in the hammock.  There is nothing anyone can do to you anymore.” (p. 4)

By contrast, at other times, the narrator refers to the reader in the third person, which interestingly enough, almost has the opposite effect of the second person references.  By referring to us as “readers”, we are instantly aware that we are being told a story.  In some ways, it removes us from the role of participant and firmly re-establishes our roles as consumers of the story.  For example, at the beginning of the novel, the narrator states, “The reader is probably asking:  Why would anyone go to Camp Green Lake?” (p. 5).  Later, toward the end of the story, in one of my favorites lines in the book, the narrator states that, “The reader might find it interesting, however, that…” (I won’t continue this quote for fear of spoiling the novel for some who have not yet read it).

In any case, I think because of this narration style, where we, as consumers of the story, are being referred to as both “the reader” and as “you”, I am constantly reminded of oral storytelling traditions.  Holes is written in such a way that one could almost imagine someone else is reciting the story to us, that we are not reading it at all, but instead are listening to it, as it is being passed down from generation to generation, from elder to great-grandchild.

Because it feels like a story that has been circulated orally for generations and because that story intertwines families and fates seamlessly, Holes has a very folktale feel to it.  In addition, even though we do not have any talking animals, as are usually found in fables, we do have a mystical donkey and some lizards, not to mention the required moral lesson to be learned (always keep your promises, loyalty pays off, greed will be punished… take your pick).

Ultimately, though hard to categorize, Holes pleases the reader because it provides a true sense of justice being well-served, in so many different ways (again, I will refrain from detailing the ways, to keep from revealing spoilers!)  I think this is an important element to the story, however, because children have very strong ideas about justice.  In many ways, their sense of right and wrong is much more acute than that of an adult’s because when things go wrong, when things are not just, children have extreme difficulty accepting.  They want the world to be just, they want things to be equal and fair.  Books with a strong sense of justice, where all that is wrong is ultimately set to right, are extremely popular among this age set because they meet the expectation that good will be rewarded and that evil will be punished.  While children of this age have most likely learned that life is not always fair, they are constantly seeking out proof that it is, in their books, in the movies they watch, in their lives.

I think perhaps, this is what makes superhero stories so exciting and compelling for so many children, and perhaps even, for so many adults.  We want a world where fair is fair and justice will be served.  Holes has given us that and more.  We are thrilled to know that in Stanley’s world, justice, long in coming, has finally prevailed.

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