My rating: 5 of 5 stars (for creativity and fun)
First of all, let me say this: On Top of the World, by David Lamb, is a romp. It is as much a jaundiced view of American pop culture and its worship of bling and blitz and blather as it is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the eternally fascinating dance between a man and a woman who both seek to unite but events and people get in the way. Plus, it includes Tiny Tim, and not that guy with the annoying falsetto.
Yes, this is most assuredly a take-off of Dicken’s work “A Christmas Carol,” and so there are some wonderfully creative allusions to his story. The title character is, of course, “Scrooje” and his best friend, named after Jamaica’s own Bob Marley, is included as well. A ratchet Bob Cratchit is included, and while Dicken’s story had a young Scrooge leave his gal Belle, in this retelling she will stick around to make good trouble for Scrooje.
And let me say that David Lamb has an affection for black American culture and an education of black American history that appears on every page, with sly references to modern events and even allusions to the past that might slip by if you don’t pay attention. For example, in Dickens’ tale, his beloved sister Fan is a safe haven in his childhood, but in Lamb’s retelling, Fan not only is that safe haven but her backstory connects her to Fanny Lou Hamer from the Civil Rights era in America. Scrooje grows up with loving parents, who met on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were taken away by death; he encounters the travails of an orphanage and the cruelty of growing up smart and nerdy and needing attention, eventually landing at an HBCU; he finds his skills in music and production; he finds Belle and falls in love but falls apart; and he becomes rich and famous—and alone, until the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future appear to knock some sense into his head—and his heart.
Lamb tells the story from several viewpoints, shifting from person to the next, as well as moving from past and present, and it might be a bit of a go to keep some of it straight, but there are so many good moments and such great descriptions.
The book stretches from the time of Dickens up through a contemporary mention of Donald Trump, thanking him for modeling greed, insincerity, and cruel treatment of both friends and the community to achieve one’s goals.
But, to be fair, this is not really only a take-off on Dickens. Lamb’s book is full of affection and life and humor all on its own. His characters are defiant and self-assured and train wrecks, just like the people you might know today, and mostly unaware of their own contributions to their own sorrows. They experience their lives and make their choices, and those choices come back to haunt them—in Scrooje’s case, literally.
The story is about them, Americans living in our America, and about their lives and their redemption. Ultimately, Scrooje sees that not only is he someone who could be a force for good in his world and to his community, but he himself is someone who can be rescued from destruction by the hand of mercy.