That Poor Oyster Boy

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton
Grade: B-

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories is composed of short rhymes and accompanying artwork. I asked for this book because the online description sounded interesting. And I received the book as a gift and I was happy to have it. But after finally reading it, I’m sorry to say that I don’t like it nearly as much as I’d hoped.

I think I was expecting something with a little more wit and a lot more text. It’s over 100 pages long but it takes less than 10 minutes to read! That’s because some pages contain no more than a line or two. It is, to some degree, a waste of paper. However, the layout is quite attractive.

Thematically the verses are all similar. Basically, they’re all about deformed or maimed or just plain peculiar children. Some of the verses suffer from uneven meter, and Burton’s method of rhyming often forces the stories into familiar and/or lame territory. For example, here is the start of the verse called “Staring Girl.”

I once knew a girl

who would just stand there and stare.

At anyone or anything,

she seemed not to care.

It’s slightly awkward. The phrase “She seemed not to care” is weak and it’s obviously only there for the purpose of making a perfect rhyme. It adds nothing to the story.

I’ll grant that several of the stories are cute. While “Staring Girl” is not the greatest verse, at least the artwork is funny, with the last picture acting as a punchline. But you don’t want to know about Oyster Boy (ugh!). And let’s not talk about “The Boy with Nails in His Eyes.”

While The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories is sometimes recommended for children, it is not appropriate for them. It’s gruesome and it mentions both sex and drug use. The subject matter doesn’t offend me, but it is problematic in another way. To put it simply, the book is a little too childish for the adult section of my library and a little too adult for the children’s section.

Because some of the artwork is so wonderfully Burton, and because in theme and tone it reminds me of Edward Gorey, it’s hard to give the book up. But it is, I think, the kind of book that belongs in the library of a devoted Burton fan. I will most likely give it away and hope that it ends up in the hands of someone who will love it for what it is without wanting more from it.

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