The King Of Pacoima
In February of 1992, the film "Radio Flyer" was released, only to become a notorious flop. Having suffered an awkward mishandling at Sony Pictures, a change of directors after filming had already begun, and numerous script changes about two brothers trying to escape an abusive stepfather didn't seem to resonate with audiences either.
Over the years, however, the Elijah Wood/Joseph Mazzello starrer has become something of a cult favorite. This reviewer even counts it as one of his favorite films of all time. I don't think it's a perfect film, and I see what people don't respond to, but there's a deeper story there that I've always found incredibly moving. However, it's the ending of the film that trips most people up. Replacement director Richard Donner wanted it to be a "Rorschach Test" for audiences into what they believed happened to one of the characters in the end. But it is that vagueness that caused film critic Roger Ebert to call the film "irresponsible" and for many others to wonder, "What happened to Bobby?"
That question would be asked of the film's original writer David Mickey Evans so often over the next 22 years that he finally decided to do something about it. Working from a novella he originally penned prior to ever beginning the original screenplay, Evans has now expanded on his original story into "The King of Pacoima" and crafted a slim, but nonetheless moving, definitive version of the story he wanted to tell. No more would there be a confusing ending. He would tell it like it as it was always meant to be told.
So what is the story? For those who may have never seen the film, it centers on a single mother and her two young sons in the '70s who travel across the country to start a new life in Los Angeles. They don't have a lot of money, so they spend some of their time living with an aunt they never knew they had. Along with their trusty German Shepherd Shane, they start their new life, and soon enough find themselves in Pacoima. Once there, mom marries a new guy the boys call "The King." They call him that because he's the ruler of their house, and if they don't obey their rules, well, there would be hell to pay.
To push past the abuse they are clearly suffering, the boys take to having adventures -- not only in their back yard (which included a cool shed that came with a strong turtle named Sampson), but farther out into the neighborhood and beyond. There, they spend their days playing and exploring so they can distance themselves from what's going on at home.
But the abuse -- mostly aimed at younger brother Bobby -- isn't ending, and the boys have to figure out a way to be free of it. The plan they come up with is something they call "The Big Idea," something I won't spoil here. Suffice to say that these boys are still in a place where they believe animals can talk, umbrellas can make you float, and magic spells can ward off monsters. And they do. So the big idea isn't just a kid's fantasy, it's real, and they're going to make it work.
I won't give away any more of the plot, as it's best to let the emotional story of these two boys wash over you in all its heartwarming and heart-wrenching glory. While Evans doesn't go into graphic detail about the abuse, we know it's there, and it's upsetting. But you must remember that this story is told by an adult who is writing through the eyes of his eleven-year-old self. We are seeing what he saw. We are experiencing what he experienced -- or at least, the way he wants to remember having experienced it. In that, Evans does a bit of a "Life of Pi" trick that -- by the end -- alters what you've read, if you are a careful enough reader to pick up on it.
Even more compelling is that included in the book are a number of photographs of the real "Mike" and "Bobby." I wasn't aware that the story was based on actual experiences, so seeing these pictures really an impact. Also included is artwork by Arlan Jewell that illustrates the more fantastical elements of the story. These gorgeous pieces harken back to picture books like "The Polar Express" and "Jumanji."
Evans writes simply, but this strategy proves most efficient and effective. There is impact in this 180-page novel that is undeniable, although to be honest, I could see it being expanded even more. In the film, the mother takes a bit more of a leading role, which makes sense cinematically. Here, it's all about the boys. I did want to know more about the mom, and why she allowed the things to happen that she did. But I also knew that I was reading a recollection by a man writing as his younger self who wouldn't have access to the reasons behind for her actions (or inactions). He could only speak to his own responses to what was happening to him and his brother, so in that, her "story" didn't have to be told.
And even though the story is about abuse, Evans gracefully avoids graphic details -- also something a young boy telling the tale would do. An eleven-year old boy would want to remember the fun and the joy, not the pain. The mentions of what was happening to them are just a means to an end; a way to talk about the Big Idea, and the Seven Secrets and Fascinations, and the ultimate reasons for what they decided to do. While we relish the joy the boys have in the everyday things that they do, like collecting frogs or going to the Five and Dime for candy and comic books, the reality of their situation makes their story become more and more urgent. As the pages flew by, I found myself charging toward the end to see if the boys succeeded in their plan and more importantly -- what really happened to Bobby.
Suffice to say, I was moved by Evans' story, and even though I've seen the film version dozens of times I was honored to get the first-hand account. Because there are a few differences from the film version (that had me sobbing in my bed), the book becomes a more affecting retelling of the boys' story. For fans of the film, this is a must-have to gain more insight. For people who simply like whimsical and poignant storytelling, this is a story you won't soon forget.
"The King of Pacoima"
$9.99 - 12.99
Flying Wagon Books
The book is available on Amazon and CreateSpace and can be accessed on here: