The Woodpecker Menace. Stories from an Accidentally Unseparated Island
Collection of Personal Essays
Ted Olinger intimately knows the power of language.
Beautifully written, combining the flowing prose of 19th century European classics, the rolling yet accurate descriptions of 20th century southern writers, and the intelligent humor of contemporary columnists, Olinger’s collection of stories The Woodpecker Menace will warm your heart before breaking it, will make you smile, laugh out loud, and then cry. You don’t want to miss this trip.
The volume, illustrated by Tweed Meyer, consists of ten personal essays depicting life on the Key Peninsula, in Puget Sound, Washington, where the residents are as quirky as the street names, and where the narrator lives with his young family among eccentric neighbors, peculiar contractors – whose antics border on the bizarre -, and true friends. The descriptions are rich with sensory details, the characters could not be more authentic, and the dialogues are genuine.
Once you pick up Olinger’s book, your choices are limited. Either you dismiss it as too provincial or too personal, or you drink his words up as if they were a glass of rich, aged wine, and pack your stuff to move to Puget Sound. The first person narration and some of the topics might not provide connections for all readers, but the elegance of the language balances the final reading experience out. Every sentence has an image that captures your attention or imagination. The imagery lulls you, lights up the sky, or punches you in the gut. No matter what mood you are in, your senses are alive after reading only one paragraph. Even the most ordinary topic transforms into a universal scheme because of the author’s exceptional mastery of the written word. Olinger uses language like other people use music: to lift you, make you fly, then bring you down, sometimes in a crash. After reading a couple of the stories, you want to know more about the Key Peninsula, have a neighbor who, on his way to your house, drinks half the wine he is supposed to give you as a present, have a poet or good witch to help you with your garden, and make friends with the fixtures of the local bar.
For those who find it difficult to categorize either the genre or message of the collection, here’s a word of advice: when you sit, dumbfounded, after reading a chapter, page, or line, you know you have an exceptional book in your hands, whether you connect to the topic or not. That was my experience with Olinger’s book. I had the urge to turn the page and read on, yet I felt the need to linger and process the page I had just read. Only outstanding literature provides this ambivalent conflict in the reader.
I wish I could see the world through Olinger’s tinted glasses; they are not at all pink, but they make life seem much rosier and so much more exciting.