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MacGregor Tells the World by Elizabeth McKenzie

A Children’s Book for Twenty-Somethings

If you remember how Norman Juster’s classic juvenile novel The Phantom Tollbooth started, you will remember that the bored character of Milo finally notices a box that says: "For Milo who has plenty of time.” Once he opens the box, he constructs the tollbooth therein along with one of the signs: “Please have your destination in mind.”

The main character in Elizabeth McKenzie’s new novel, MacGregor tells the World, is not as bored as Milo, but he does have a lot of time on his hands. At the beginning of the book he is at the start of his personal fairy tale, waiting in front of the San Francisco version of the medieval castle, a Pacific Heights mansion owned by a famous novelist.

Here he meets Carolyn Ware, the daughter of said novelist. Carolyn is rich. “The hitch to hanging out with Carolyn Ware,” Mac says, “was that, she threw money everywhere, she threw it like crumbs for birds.” Mac’s MO to win points with Carolyn is to “recreate himself into someone she would always want to know.”

Mac is lurking because he has received a stack of envelopes with no letters inside. The envelopes bear the return address of said Pacific Heights mansion. They were all addressed to Mac’s mother who gave him away as a child. Mac is at that point in his life where he wants to find out who his mother was. This is his destination.

When he isn’t spending time with Carolyn, he is tutoring a young kid in the Mission and it is no coincidence that early on in the story, they are discussing Great Expectations. He also checks in with his cousin Fran who has a weird obsession with coaster marks on coffee tables. It is this need to give each character a nutty attribute that gives the book this weird visceral quality that you are reading a children’s book. Mac loves military invasions, Mac’s mother made her own shoes, Mac’s student loves to think about words that he hates. Add to this the strange way people talk when they first meet. When Mac first meets Carolyn’s mother Adele, one of the first things Adele tells him is how proud she is of her daughters. The dialogue often comes across declarative, as if something like a talking dog jumps in your car and says, “I love automobile rides.”

MacGregor Tells the World is a certain type of book that will appeal to people who really enjoyed their freshman English class where lunchtime was spent discussing Dickens and Nabokov. It is joyful, and because it is so untethered by reality, you know that someone worked hard to make everything up.

MacGregor Tells the World by Elizabeth McKenzie
Random House
June 12, 2007
Paperback, $12.95,
ISBN: 978-1400062256
272 pages