I’ll bet your parents lied to you, too, in small ways or large. But few children grow up hearing and believing the kinds of lies Josiah grows up with in B.H. James’ Parnucklian for Chocolate. Fewer still cling to those lies the way Josiah does.
In a feat of imagination and denial, Josiah’s mother (who is referred to throughout the book in only two ways: as “Josiah’s mother” and as “Dear”) tells him his absent father is from the planet Parnuckle, and that Josiah was conceived during a romantic alien abduction. Josiah is half Parnucklian, the son of a powerful Parnucklian official. Among other strange customs, Parnucklians eat nothing but chocolate. So Josiah eats nothing but chocolate, reflecting not only Josiah’s mother’s profound imagination but her profound guilt as well. Josiah’s mother has taught her son a few words in the Parnucklian language: “boboli” means chocolate, for example. I won’t tell you what “Andre Agassi” means but you can look forward to finding out.
The boy is deeply confused, first in his group home (where he goes to live after some serious acting-out), then in therapy (where he discovers that the goddess Cher is his real mother, who lives on Parnuckle), then in the home of his soon-to-be stepfather, Josiah’s mother’s fiancé, Johnson Davis.
When Josiah doesn’t know the words for something (and trust me, he’s lacking a lot of information) we get a description of it. It might be the swirly shapes on Bree’s bikini, or it might be her marijuana pipe, which Josiah describes as “the shiny blue thing.” Josiah’s story isn’t completely unusual, but the telling of it is. James creates a glib tone using run-on sentences and minutely specific descriptions to tell a heartbreaking tale, creating a sense of silliness that makes Josiah’s predicament palatable by giving us some distance:
“Having heard the screaming, two eighth-grade boys ran over from the room next door. One of the eighth-grade boys began hitting Josiah on the left side of the head with a two-inch-three-ring binder. The other eighth-grade boy began hitting Josiah on the right shoulder with Mrs. Lorrence’s rain stick, a hollowed-out stick with little bitty seeds inside of it for the purpose of making a sound that sounded like rain, but only when the rain stick was shaken lightly. When the eighth-grade boy was swinging the rain stick and using it to hit Josiah in the right shoulder in an attempt to persuade him to let go of Mrs. Lorrence’s nose, the sound coming out of it did not sound like rain.”
Josiah and his mother move in with her fiancé Johnson Davis, and on weekends Davis’ promiscuous, pot dealer daughter comes to stay with them. This confuses Josiah even more. No one has told him much of anything about life, relationships, or girls except his mother, who explains sex in Parnucklian terms while moving a bottle in and out of a cup.
Bree is slightly older and as worldly for her age (almost 18) as Josiah is sheltered for his (almost 16). To just about everything, Josiah responds with a shrug of the shoulders or an “I don’t know.” But his response to Bree overpowers him. He’s not prepared for her.
Throughout the story, James includes episodes from the past to enlighten the present. Did Johnson Davis learn his extreme repression from his parents? Did Bree learn rebelliousness from hers? Did Josiah inherit his imagination from his mother? And what has he inherited from his father? What does he stand to inherit when he gets to Parnuckle? A castle and a very good job, if his fantasy holds out.
Josiah’s life is rife with poisons: the chocolate, the drugs and alcohol to which Bree introduces him, the secrecy between his mother and her fiancé. But the worst poison is the lies he has grown up with. If he’s going to make it, he’ll have to shed the Parnucklian dream.
Much popular fiction fits into a genre: Romance, YA, Paranormal, Historical, etc. Parnucklian for Chocolate cannot be categorized, and that is one of the many brilliant things about it.
Parnucklian for Chocolate was published by Pasadena’s Red Hen Press. For more info, click here.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.