I have been known to use a bit of sarcasm in dealing with my urchins. (“Wow! You cleaned your room without being asked. Let’s give you a prize!”) Said urchins have been known to blame their propensity for sarcasm on me, their long-suffering mom. (“Where do you think we get the sarcasm from, the postman?”) I have a fairly high tolerance for snark and sarcasm, which may or may not be a good thing.
However, 340 pages of unremitting sarcasm, and not-very-witty sarcasm at that, surpasses my limit. Twice Upon a Time, the sequel to Half Upon a Time, by James Riley is middle school sarcastic humor at its best or worst, depending on how much of it you can enjoy/tolerate. Jack, May, and Prince Philip are on a quest to find out the secret of May’s true identity. Of course, they are impeded in their quest by various uncooperative or plainly evil fairy tale characters. May’s favorite rejoinder when obstructed in her journey is, “Just stand still long enough for me to kick you in the face!” If that threat doesn’t work, May does a lot of yelling in all-caps and words pronounced clearly and distinctly with periods after each one: “SEND. US. BACK. NOW.”
Jack and May communicate almost entirely in sarcastic asides and insults, but they’re supposed to care about each other in an embarrassed middle school way. It reminds me of a phase my urchins went through in which their favorite answer to everything anyone said was “your mom!” or “your mom eats Oreos!” Don’t try to understand; it’s sarcastic, only funny the first 100 times, middle school humor.
May: “Like you can’t pull off a little stupid.”
“He makes stupid choices when I’m not around! He’s going to get himself killed!”
“Way to go, Jack. How am I supposed to rescue you when I’m all locked up?”
Jack: “I can’t even begin to tell you how stupid that was.”
“I bet she’ll randomly show up here and poke her head in these bars to chat ‘Cause that’s so likely to happen.”
And the beat goes on.
As May says, “You all were a lot cuter in the cartoons, you know.”
If you read Half Upon a Time, which I assume is calibrated to the same snark level as its sequel and you weren’t overloaded, then Twice Upon a Time will deliver more of the same. The plot seems to be a vehicle for the snappy dialog as the characters move from one crisis to the next and from one fairy tale land to the next: Hamelin, to Never Land, to Under the Sea to Bluebeard’s ship. And everywhere, in every situation, at the moment of truth, May yells that fearsome threat, “I’M GOING TO KICK YOUR FACE!”
And all resistance is rendered futile.