Friday, June 29, 2012

#1B: Return to Foreverware

Book #1:  "Return to Foreverware"

Release Date:  October 1997

Front Cover: A boy (Marshall?) rides his bike, delivering papers.  "There's a well-kept secret on this street..."

Inside Cover: A boy (Marshall? Simon?) is trapped behind a Foreverware lid.  "...and they're going to keep it FOREVER!"

One-Sentence Synopsis:  Marshall and Simon meet a Foreverware-using couple who plan on kidnapping Simon and keeping him young FOREVER!

It's summer and a year since Marshall originally moved to Eerie.  His parents encourage him to get a summer job and he chooses the not-at-all suspicious classified ad asking for a young boy to help with an odd job, "no questions asked."  He and Simon visit the house of the employer who is a woman in her 30s who still acts, dresses, and models her house as if it were the 1970s.  Her name is Martha Stewart (yes, really) and she lives with her equally '70s-ish husband James.  The job entails cleaning out the attic and she hires both boys, even though she "only needs one."

While moving things in the attic, the boys discover a large number of toys and child's drawings for a supposedly childless couple to own.  Among these items is the picture of a boy who looks similar to Simon, receiving a puppy for his birthday.  They take the photo to investigate and discover that it was taken in 1976.  When they return to the attic, they find a photo album filled with similar photos, each with a different boy in them.

The next day, Marshall has to come late, and when he arrives at the Stewarts' house expecting to find Simon, the Stewarts tell him that Simon never showed up and that they no longer require their services. Marshall searches around town for Simon but eventually learns that Simon has been kidnapped by the Stewarts.  Since Marshall knows the police won't help, he goes straight to the library for answers.  There, he discovers a couple newspaper articles from 1976, one featuring the Stewarts winning a dance contest (and looking the exact same age as they do currently) and one discussing the death of their son Rodney on Christmas.

Marshall sneaks into the Stewarts' home where he finds them calling Simon "Rodney" and preparing for his "birthday."  They catch Marshall, who decides to play along with the situation, lest he get hurt.  Marshall eventually realizes that this family uses Foreverware to stay eternally young, and they are obsessed with recreating Rodney's birthday and missed Christmas with Simon.  Marshall manages to escape before "Christmas" and tracks down Bert and Ernie Wilson for help freeing Simon from the clutches of Foreverware.  The twins explain the full story of the family, saying that Rodney had a disease that would lead to an early death.  His parents hoped Foreverware would keep him alive but, on Christmas Eve, he snuck out of his container to get a glimpse of Santa and he died.

When Marshall returns, he is punished for escaping by being placed in the freezer-line of Foreverware containers kept in the basement, where all the other kidnapped boys from the other photos are kept (since they also tried to run away).  Marshall breaks free in time for Bert and Ernie to break into the house dressed as Santa and an elf.  They knock out the Stewarts, free the frozen children, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Evidence Locker Item: Marshall puts the two 1976 newspaper clippings into the locker halfway through the story, along with the original Rodney photograph.  Then, at the end, the Stewarts send the boys the petrified Foreverware Christmas fruitcake along with Simon's version of the Rodney photograph.  I don't know why they sent them that, seeing as how they kind of left on bad terms but, oh well.  That's plenty of evidence right there.

"My mind reeled as I thought back to something that Simon and I encountered right after I moved to Eerie.  Something so strange, so weird, so bizarre that no one would ever believe it in a million years.  And now it was back again."

There is a point in most stories in which the characters of the story catch up with the knowledge that the audience knows from the title.  Some fans dub this the "Ghost Ship Moment" based on the movie Ghost Ship in which the characters finally figure out, "Hey, we're on a ghost ship!"  This is often unavoidable, as the audience encounters the title before the story, and they are already slightly ahead of the characters.  Sometimes this dramatic irony is used to the writer's advantage, or it could be used to set up false expectations.  Other times, it doesn't matter because the story is told so well that the audience doesn't care/notice.

This is not one of those cases.

Right away, we know that Foreverware is going to be a major component of the novella.  Yet, it literally takes Marshall half of the book to make the connection that the '70s-trapped family is using Foreverware.  So many clues are laid out that it becomes a chore following Marshall as he makes wrong assumptions and can't put two and two together.  The story basically can't move forward until Marshall knows what's going on, and he takes his sweet time getting there.

This was an odd choice to kick off the book series.  It is one of the few that is directly based on an original episode, so it wasn't going to attract anyone unfamiliar with the series.  After Marshall finally understands what's happening, he retells the whole "Foreverware" episode, which is tedious for those of us who saw it and confusing for those who haven't.  Oh, so there is this magical device that was introduced in some older story that is crucial to understanding this one?  And that story sounds far more entertaining than this one?

The slow pace in which anything happens is made worse by the way Marshall and Simon talk and behave.  The book series had a few writers and each have their own style.  Mike Ford wrote this one and he seems to have sucked the life and joy out of Eerie's mysteries.  Our two investigators are not as intelligent as their television counterparts.  Case in point: the Rodney picture.  The duo discover it in the attic, take it home for further investigation, look at it for a couple hours, and then turn it over and read the phrase "Summer, 1976."  Why?!  Why did it take them so long to turn it over?!

My only positive about this episode is that it tried to tell a different story, albeit one that was much darker and involved parents driven mad over the loss of their child.  But again, it's a strange book to kick off the series.  The Stewarts' aren't just weird, they are disturbing.  Too disturbing for Eerie, which is usually playful with its weirdness.  I would feel really sorry for these characters, if they weren't such horrible people.

This is a low point for the series, but hopefully it can only get better from here, right?

Random Observations:
- Each Eerie, Indiana book in the original dozen has a "ripped" normal cover that reveals a portion of the weird cover beneath it.  That's a clever idea, but my parents always told me to get a better copy of the book when I bought it since these were obviously damaged.

- I didn't include "References" because there are too many to count.  Every character's name, every street sign, every remark about the '70s contains some sort of reference.  I did appreciate "Twin Peaks Lane" and the Nehi soda, but others, like the librarian named "Mr. Poe" who is trying to find a rhyme to "nevermore," are too on the nose.

- The Wilson twins return, although now they are seventh-grade teachers as opposed to paramedics like in the show.  Also, they've continued creating Foreverware products, including a microwave used to rapidly age the victims of the freezer Foreverwares.  That is just stupid.  There is no reason for them to want any part of Foreverware after what they went through.  And why even have the need for a microwave?  Just make the freezer Foreverwares act like the regular containers, Mr. Ford!

- Sgt. Knight is nowhere to be seen.  In his place is Chief Hoffa, who never believes Marshall's stories. Right.  You do know that no one believes Marshall's stories, Mr. Ford.  That's his whole schtick.  No need to make a character specifically for that purpose.

- Elvis (called "The King") also appears, along with Marilyn Monroe, for some reason.

- Why does Marshall take so long to remember what Foreverware is?  It was his first encounter with weirdness, and it wasn't as if it went away after that episode.  We've seen that the World O'Stuff continues to sell it and there are families who still use it.  This book acts as if the Stewarts are the last ones to own it, but almost every family in Eerie is trapped in their own era.  Marshall shouldn't find this family to be out of the ordinary in Eerie.

- I'll never understand why the Stewarts decide to become nice and send the boys that Christmas gift.  It's a stupid conclusion for a stupid story.

Conspiracy Theories:
- After living in Eerie for a year, citizens get progressively dumber/brainwashed.  Only Simon is immune.  How else can we explain Marshall's behavior?

Grade: The story is just reheated leftovers (not the good kind found in Foreverware containers) and every character behaves inconsistently and obnoxiously.  D-

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