Review: The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes by David S. Atkinson

Review: The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes by David S. Atkinson

Reviewed by Susan Tepper

garden good evil pancakes photoThere’s a German opera called Wozzeck that focuses on the ultimate futility of the life cycle. I have seen this unusual work performed twice. First by the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in NYC, on a nearly bare stage. It was powerful and impressive.

The second time, I saw it done in a small experimental theatre space in New Haven, performed by students attending the Yale School of Drama. This performance was coupled with a pre-dinner deal, or just dessert, if you so desired, which could be consumed during the play. The Yale students took Wozzeck the full route, with some pretty risqué simulated sex scenes thrown in with your chocolate mousse. Pancakes, unfortunately, were not on that menu.

You are probably wondering what all this has to do with a book of fiction written by David S. Atkinson titled The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes.

Well, I’ll tell you. From almost the beginning of Atkinson’s new book, I was struck like a gong by the Wozzeck connection. Both opera and book are set in different countries. Nothing about the plots are particularly parallel. Wozzeck gets out and about, in his foreign setting, while Atkinson’s characters are caught up in an existential time warp that happens to unfold inside a pancake diner/restaurant. The menu is presented to the reader ahead of time. Could this be the ultimate solipsistic point of view? So why do these two tales mesh in my mind?

I believe there is a terrible philosophical emptiness at work in both book and opera, and that each author understood what is meant by the expression enforced internal solitude. Though their means of getting at it, and expressing it artistically, differ greatly.

During my reading of The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, I got organically, almost orgiastically pulled in, becoming extremely obsessed with that food item. This can happen once in a while when I’m reading something especially compelling that involves food. However, in this instance, I was obsessed with hunting down pancakes. I needed the texture, the spongy chewiness, the sweet maple syrup and the stack smell. That stack smell. When the pancakes come out hot and steaming. That haunted me ’til the end of Atkinson’s book.

When an author takes on a subject matter that cannot possibly resolve in any normal manner, well, that author has dipped down into a hellish hole. A place where certain religions preach the devil resides. Atkinson is searching in this book, mucking around, down in those same dark places where Wozzeck dwelled. Of course the costuming is altogether different, as are the settings and actions. The time period, I can’t vouch for that.

However a shared urge by both artists to understand more than the surface of things is what gives both their works a raw power.  And, that neither actually deals with “the surrounding features” of life as they know it to be, and expect it to be, but instead go off into a different realm – that  is the connector here.

The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes might be called trippy, if this were the 70’s.  Today I would call it an existential romp that will drive you to keep turning the page, looking for a way out for these people. In fact there’s a car careening headlong into a cavernous blob on the book’s cover. Coming or going? If that’s what you’re looking for.

The cover art is a drip/smeared painting done in luscious colors, like pancakes offered 39 ways, and a sky Van Gogh might have painted. Read it and take the trip. The trippy trip, if you prefer. Have a side of pancakes at your side. You’re going to enjoy yourself.

To read an excerpt from The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, or to purchase a copy, head to Amazon or IndieBound.