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Literature / Snarkout Boys

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The Snarkout Boys books is a series of two books, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death and The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror by Daniel Pinkwater. Fourteen-year-old Walter Galt, The Narrator, and his friend Winston Bongo have an unusual hobby: sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to go watch a movie at the 24-hour Snark St. Theater, a practice they call "Snarking Out". In the course of these adventures, they befriend a punk girl named Rat and get recruited by the world's greatest detective to fight werewolves, aliens, and a criminal mastermind.

The books take place in the city of Baconburg, a fictionalized version of Chicago. Many of the recurring places in the books have analogues to real-life locations from 1950's Chicago, including the Snark St. Theater itself.

These books contain examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The nerdy Scott Feldman keeps asking Rat out on dates, but she and her friends find him incredibly annoying and repulsive.
  • Adults Are Useless: The FBI searches exhaustively for K.E. Kelman, PH, and after being unable to find him, declare him not to exist. Cool teen Rat is able to find him in ten minutes.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Walter's father makes corny jokes and is bizarrely obsessed with avocados, something that Walter finds endlessly embarrassing. He tries to spend as little time with his father as possible.
  • Anachronism Stew: The books have a very 50's flavor, but don't seem to actually take place then. 50's movies and objects (for example, Winston's 1957 Studebaker Lark) are often discussed but are usually presented as "old" or "this cool thing from the past." Hints such as Rat's dyed hair and the existence of a New Wave radio station point to the books taking place in the 70's or later. But the kids also run into beatniks (1950's) and hobos (1930's), and attend debates at Blueberry Park, whose real-life counterpart in Chicago petered out by the 1960's.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Sigerson deduces that Nussbaum is bluffing about Heinz being an android clone on the basis that androids are all made in Asia, and have a hard time with their Rs and Ls. Since the man in question wasn't calling certain chracters "Llat", or "Fripping", he couldn't be an android. This later shows up as a Brick Joke, when the Mitsubishi robot pizza chefs turn out to have a stereotypical Asian accent.
  • Black Speech: The werewolf's speech is described as unspeakably horrible, and and cause food to spontaneously go moldy.
  • The Butler Did It: In the first book, Rat's butler Heinz turns out to behind the scheme to capture the Avocado. Subverted in the second book, when the butler is suspected but turns out to be merely the identical twin of the Big Bad.
  • Big Bad: Wallace Nussbaum is always behind whatever scheme takes place.
  • Beatnik: All the denizens of the Dharma Buns Cafe, and Johnathan Quicksilver in particular. They all dress in all black and are very concerned with avant-garde poetry and jazz.
  • Celeb Crush: Rat has devoted her life to the memory of James Dean.
  • Celebrity Elegy: Jonathan Quicksilver writes a poem mourning the untimely death of James Dean.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase
  • Chronically Crashed Car: The Snarkout Boys' biology teacher periodically drives into a tree in the school parking lot.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Walter's father's strange obsession with avocados is Played for Laughs, but in both books avocados turn out to be key to the villain's Evil Plan. In the second book, Walter's dad tells an avocado-related story that helps explain how the Baconburg werewolf was created.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Wallace Nussbaum attempts to torture the secret to the avocado computer out of Uncle Flipping by forcing him to watch Old German comedies. It fails miserably, as Flipping happens to love them, and is unaffected by the torture.
  • Cool Car: Winston Bongo's 1957 Studebaker Lark, which also doubles as The Alleged Car. It's a luxury vintage convertible, but it also barely functions.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Wallace Nussbaum, an evil genius who's constantly trying to Take Over the World using mind-control, stolen technology, and kidnapped orangutans. Referred to as "The Napoleon of Crime" and the arch-nemesis of Osgood Sigerson, he's something of an Expy of Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes.
  • Distressed Dude: Uncle Flipping. Gets kidnapped and lost on a regular basis.
  • Drive-In Theater: The secret history of the drive-in is a major plot point in The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror. The book claims that the original "drive-in" was a stage show in Romania in the 1800s, which the peasants hated so much that they burned it down and drove the purveyor out of the country. The climax of the book is at the world's largest drive-in theater, founded by a descendant of the original inventor. A Romanian pyromaniac shows up and sets the entire lot on fire.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Baconburg Horror ends with the heroes capturing the bad guy, Wallace Nussbaum, and sending him to be imprisoned in the Chateau D'If. Then, in the last scene, Nussbaum's voice takes over a movie showing, as he announces that he has escaped and will soon reign in terror all over the world, and laughs evilly.
  • Evil Twin: Wallace Nussbaum, a Diabolical Mastermind and the main villain of the books, turns out to be the identical twin of Heinrich Nussbaum, a pure-hearted policeman, in Baconburg Horror. Lampshaded at various points in the second book.
  • Expy: World's Greatest Detective Osgood Sigerson, Dr. Ormond Sacker, and their nemesis Wallace Nussbaum, the "Napoleon of Crime," are all obvious parodies of Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty. Sigerson is even described as dressing like someone in a Basil Rathbone-as-Sherlock Holmes costume.
  • Fleeting Demographic Rule: Many elements were recycled into Pinkwater's later novel The Education of Robert Nifkin. The first couple chapters of Avacado read almost as a Lighter and Softer version of that book.
  • Hobos: In The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, the Snarkout Boys are taken to a Hobo Jungle, a vast, sprawling, off-the-grid neighborhood made of box cars and inhabited by self-proclaimed hobos.
  • Improbable Weapon User: The most dangerous man in the country when he has his lacrosse stick.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The giant avocado-based computer that somehow repels the alien realtors. No explanation of how or why any of this is possible is ever given.
  • Jive Turkey: The Avacado of Death has a trade unionist trying to organize a strike in a banjo pick factory, who speaks entirely in jive.
  • Lethal Chef: Walter's mother's cooking is so terrible that he thinks the inedible Mystery Meat his cafeteria serves to be delicious by comparison.
  • Local Hangout: Several, most overlapping with Greasy Spoon.
    • The Hasty Tasty, a disgusting all-night hot dog stand, is Walter and Winston's go-to spot to hang out after Snarking Out.
    • Bignose's Cafeteria, known for its delicious Napoleons, is also a frequent hang out spot, and is usually where the characters meet up with Osgood Sigerson.
    • In The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror, The Deadly Nightshade Cafe is a popular hangout for nearly all the characters, and a number of key scenes take place there.
  • Living MacGuffin: Uncle Flipping, especially in the first book. The plot is driven by the bad guy attempting to kidnap him, and the protagonists trying to get him back.
  • Mad Scientist: Uncle Flipping, who self-identifies as a mad scientist, is always working on strange inventions.
  • Maniac Monkeys: Wallace Nussbaum relies on kidnapped and mind-controlled orangutans to do his evil bidding.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Many Baconburg locations, such as Blueberry Park, the Snark St. Theater, and Lower N. Aufzoo St. have real-life counterparts in Chicago, and some elements of the stories are recycled from other Pinkwater works set in Chicago.
  • Non-Residential Residence: In The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado Of Death, there's Custerville, a Hobo jungle where the entire neighborhood is made of people living in abandoned train cars.
  • One-Paragraph Chapter: The Baconburg Horror has quite a few short chapters, the shortest of which consists of the single sentence "Anything is possible."
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Rat. Her real name is Bentley Saunders Harrison Matthews, but everyone, including her parents, calls her Rat.
    • The Matthews' butlers are always called Heinz.
  • Organic Technology: Uncle Flipping's inventions include an alien-repelling avocado supercomputer and food that conveys information.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In the second book, Baconburg is haunted by a werewolf that seems to be able to travel through shadows, and has a voice that is unspeakably horrible and causes food to rot just from hearing it (he likes reciting poetry). The werewolf does a lot of property damage but doesn't kill anyone. He is vulnerable to wolfsbane and some other traditional remedies. Eventually, it's revealed that the werewolfism was induced via brainwashing through Borgelnuskies (a type of food) tainted with special mind-control instructions, and that the werewolf is really Uncle Flipping, the inventor of this same techology.
  • Prison Escape Artist: Wallace Nussbaum, the "Napoleon of Crime", breaks out of prison at least once per book and is implied to have done so more times. One book has him escaping from the supposedly inescapable Devil's Island.
  • Reel Torture: Wallace Nussbaum captures Uncle Flipping and attempts to torture the secret of the avocado computer out of him. How? Using old German comedies. Unfortunately for Nussbaum, it doesn't work, since Uncle Flipping happens to love those movies.
  • Replacement Goldfish: After the Matthews family butler is revealed to be the Big Bad in the first book, the Matthews hire a new butler who looks exactly the same and call him by the same name.
  • Soapbox Square: Blueberry Park, where anybody can give a speech. In The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, three speakers go on simultaneously about the virtues of vegetarianism, getting the British out of Kenya, and Demonic Possession. Walter then decides to make a speech himself and brave the hecklers.
  • Sucky School: Winston and Walter's high school, George Armstrong Custer High. Nearly all the teachers are crazy, and some, such as their English teacher, are highly anti-Semitic. Rat's school is implied to be just as bad.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Wallace Nussbaum attempts to torture Uncle Flipping by forcing him to watch German comedies, but Uncle Flipping actually loves those movies so it doesn't work.
  • Unabashed B-Movie Fan: All the characters know each other because they all sneak out at night to watch old movies, primarily trashy B-movies. One of Rat's main characteristics is her absolute devotion to movies— no matter how bad the movie is, she insists on sitting quietly through the whole thing and will hassle anyone who does otherwise. In contrast, the snarkier Walter and Winston enjoy making fun of bad movies, while Uncle Flipping's love of them indicates his larger Cloudcuckoolander tendencies.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Uncle Flipping's inventions usually end up getting used for nefarious purposes without his knowledge or intent, making him the pawn of Wallace Nussbaum.
  • White Sheep: The entire Nussbaum family has been evil for generations, except for Heinrich Nussbaum, who is good. His mother writes to tell him how ashamed she is of him.
  • You Are Too Late: At the end of The Avocado of Death, the titular vegetable computer that repels the aliens is destroyed in spite of the heroes' efforts, so nothing will stop them from possessing every licensed realtor in the world. They shrug and say "We'll have to get used to them".