Imagine having a famous character named after you, with graphics that resemble you, and incidents from your childhood that you thought were personal, suddenly appearing on the page of a popular book that everyone has read.
Like the real Christopher Robin (Milne) who cringed at his father’s exposure of his childhood,
Luke Hayward, in Charles Elton’s Mr. Toppit, is weary of being compared to the character his father fashioned after him…
“They were my bees, and I do not remember offering them up to the world.”
The story begins with a young Luke Hayward, aka Luke Hayseed of “The Hayseed Chronicles,” who has been reluctantly immortalized by his father, Arthur, in a series of children’s books. Elton even includes some excerpts; as the story goes on, you will start to wonder if the Darkwood really did exist.
Arthur Haywood gets run over by a truck and his funeral is a mix of Gallow’s humor and family angst, and an opportunity to get acquainted with some of his family and friends, among them: Rachel, the daughter who, much to her dismay, is not mentioned in her father’s books, and Laurie, the American tourist (did I mention this is set in Britain?), who witnesses Arthur’s accident on her first day in London and immediately ingratiates herself into the family.
In an interesting twist, Elton has the crass American become both the opportunistic villain and the family benefactor. The chronicles, which have had limited success in Britain, suddenly get infused with popularity, when Laurie reads them on her American radio show. Eventually, she becomes Oprah-like, hosting her own talk show and producing films – until her past in Los Alamos catches up to her.
New wealth and fame carries the price of more exposure for Luke as he grows to adulthood. He consistently resists the fame just as his sister, Rachel, yearns for it. Elton changes the scene back and forth from the ugly Americans to the discomfort of the Brits.
Elton’s sarcasm and dark humor will take you on a bumpy ride – he may be the real Mr. Toppit. You’ll laugh, but you may also flinch as the characters exploit each other. It’s hard when everyone knows all your secrets – but Elton saves the best secret for the very end – and it could have changed everything.
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