Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt is the very definition of offbeat. Our eponymous hero is the junior man of the house, his father a U.S Army captain on duty in Germany, his home life a chaotic jumble of siblings and stressed mother. Unexpectedly bequeathed a real-life English butler, their suburban American life is about to be turned on its head. Prepare for humour, pathos and a spot of cricket before lunch.
Portly, bowler-hatted, and in proud possession of a purple Bentley, the Butler has arrived to aid Carter’s family, who are ‘a little bit broken right now.’ He is, of course, an amalgamation of every English butler you’ve ever seen, and provides many chuckles in his bid to impose some English elegance on these Americans with their indifference to tea and cricket.
Declaring that the ‘…parameters of my duties are wide-ranging,’ the Butler sets about introducing the Jones children to art, culture and the splendiferous joys of the ‘gentleman’s game’. Carter is also instructed in the art of driving the purple Bentley (aged 12 and seated on cushions to peer over the steering wheel). The Butler is becoming indispensable.
But something is awry, Carter’s life is underpinned with sadness. A running thread of the narrative is Carter’s recollection of time spent in the Blue Mountains of Australia with his dad. A time of companionship, abundant with nature, it should’ve been special. And yet.
Pay Attention Carter Jones is an impressive read, skilfully balancing the laughs with a poignant subplot. The Jones family are in a dark place, the Butler their saviour.
It was like he knew when we needed him most.
With a nod to Mary Poppins and a laugh-out-loud roll call of English clichés, this engaging book stands out amongst this summer’s new releases. It is somewhat heavy on the cricket for my tastes but as the Butler informs us that ‘mockery of cricket…is akin to blasphemy,’ I’ll say no more.
Pay Attention Carter Jones by Gary D. Schmidt is published by Andersen Press, 288 pages.