The concept behind Jesse Andrews’ latest book is simple: the amount of munmun (money) you have is directly related to your physical size. Thus, bigrich (billionaires) walk the Yewess (United States) as colossi, feasting on cows and drinking vats of vodka. They are classified as prized job creators, since they employ hundreds of staff to service their expansive needs.
At the other end of the scale are littlepoors, who are smaller than cats. Because of their stature, they have no schools or health care and live in fear of being stepped on or devoured by animals. Through the acquisition of munmun, it is possible to “scale up” and advance across social strata. A downturn in one’s economic status results in a visit to the bank for an upsetting shrinkage procedure.
Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute littlepoors with ambition but zero prospects. Their only chance out of the doldrums is to find Prayer a middlerich husband, who has enough munmun to scale up the whole family. Cue a fantastical bildungsroman that satirises the American class system, rampant commercialism and conservative politics. Throw in a few Godzilla jokes, and you have an engaging romp brimming with originality and energy.
Warner is an entertaining narrator, and the author’s experimentation with language is joyous. “Hey, sister for sale, fifteenyearold sister with aboveaverage face, one annoying sister for the lowlow price of you have to lose a bunch of scale joining your munmuns with not just her but also her mom and bro.” The decision to run words together could be annoying, but the reader attunes quickly and there is much humour to be gleaned from unexpected wordplay combinations.
Disappointingly, Munmun is being marketed as young adult literature. This speaks perhaps to the industry’s nervousness when it comes to stories of great imagination – that because a novel has fantasy elements it means it’s for kids. In fact, pre and early teen readers may find some content deeply disturbing. Littlepoors are deep-fried and eaten by gang members; they are pitted against spiders in battles to the death; Prayer is abused in an eye-watering middlerich sex game. This much older adult squirmed on many occasions. It would be a shame if a work of such invention was passed over by adult readers. Munmun is a scintillating book, dealing with themes of wealth inequality and the abuse of power that are worryingly prescient. JD
A&U Children, 416pp, $19.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 31, 2018 as "Jesse Andrews, Munmun". Subscribe here.