Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 521

Curtis is a versatile writer, not one to develop a formula. The plot of his first novel, The Watson's Go to Birmingham—1963, is episodic in nature. Each chapter is a novella of the Watson family's doings that moves the story foreword to its poignant and dramatic conclusion. In contrast, the plot for Bud, Not Buddy is linear in form with the young protagonist moving from one event to another with a developing goal in mind and eventual achievement of that goal. Both stories, however, are universal in their portrayal of family interactions, characters, and events.

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Curtis is also a master of language. Throughout the story delightful examples of onomatopoeia tickle the tongue and activate the funny bone as inanimate objects spring to life. Parked cars grumble, "wugga, wugga, wugga." High heels go "tap, tap, tappity." Idling trains murmur "shuh, shuh, shuh." Grown men cry "muh-huh, muhhuh," and saxophones, in the hands of the inexperienced, shriek out "ahwronk, roozahga, baloopa."

The author's skill with alliteration comes through in names given to the jazzbands: "The Dusky Devastators of the Depression" and "The Nubian Knights of the NRA." But his style is not always so clownish. Curtis has a way with description that lifts the spirit and stretches the mind. He allows Bud, the down-to-earth, street-smart kid, to express himself in lyrical prose on occasions that touch his child heart. When Bud realizes that Miss Thomas, with her ring studded hands, is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, he treats us to this observation:

When she talked, she moved her hands and fingers around and the lights from the ceiling and from the little candle on the table would bounce off all them diamonds and spark up in your eye and make you feel like you'd been hit with some kind of fairy dust, then you couldn't help but smile.

Curtis uses a metaphor of weather to show Bud's reaction to the Devastator's rehearsal. Until now he has not heard the band and in this first experience, he is immediately transported into a world of rain and thunder and Niagara Falls. Then Miss Thomas joins in and her song is like the sun emerging through clouds, lighting the world with its brilliance as she and Steady Eddie's magnificent saxophone speak to each other in a dialogue of exquisite notes.

The author's use of Depression era idioms and African-American dialect is careful and accurate, giving the reader a taste of the time and the characters. His band members, especially, speak a language that Bud has to decipher and he makes clear to the reader what he learns.

Perhaps the only credibility gap occurs in Bud's use of gangster slang from 1930s movies. From what we can tell, Bud is not a child who has ever attended a movie and no reference is made to his learning these expressions anywhere else.

As well, lectures from minor characters about current events sometimes interrupt the story line. Still, if the reader holds to the theme of learning, this "tell" rather than "show" becomes more acceptable. Certainly, these are small glitches in an otherwise thoroughly engaging story.

Setting

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 663

In the United States, 1936 was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression. Desperate, homeless men and boys traveled the country on foot and by rail searching for work, any work that would keep body and soul together. Desperate women waited for their men to return, trying in any way possible to make a home for their children. Despite these efforts to keep families together, orphanages were overflowing with abandoned and parentless children and foster homes were few and far between.

It was against this background that Curtis developed his story of a child's search for family in the midwest towns of Flint and Grand Rapids,...

(The entire section contains 3380 words.)

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