Two brothers fall in love with the same woman. Instead of settling it sensibly, or at least by dueling, one of them climbs up an enormous ladder they’ve been constructing, and refuses to come down for years. And rather than just letting the ladder fall, the other props it up till he dies and is replaced by his son.
Thus begins the premise to “Froelich’s Ladder,” which occupies a space somewhere between magic realism and the American tall tale. It’s set in 19th-century Oregon, but a 19th-century Oregon in which carnivorous clouds travel in herds and eat unwary creatures. There’s plenty of humor of a very certain sort, which is perhaps best described as “Huck Finn meets Blazing Saddles”: everything is semi-recognizable, but with at least one foot in the world of the absurd, which is used both for simple humor and for social commentary. Is this a story about pointless stubbornness? The illusory nature of perception? Immigration (most of the characters are immigrants)? The harmful results of attempting to control women’s bodies? Or is the author merely spinning a great big fireside yarn?
The voice and prose style of the book are distinctive, and I suspect that readers will either enjoy it, or not. The story is too goofy to be standard literary fiction, too bizarre to be fun-of-the-mill genre fiction, and there’s a certain element of spikiness to it that prevents it from being just another silly little humor book. Personally, I found it fascinating, while still finding it difficult to warm up to the characters–they’re too complex to be archetypes or cliches, while still too weird to be particularly relatable. In any case, “Froelich’s Ladder” is both unusual and thoroughly grounded in myths and literature, and, in spite of and because the main characters are immigrants, a decidedly American work.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Amazon link here.