Maurice Sendak's spare picture book has captured the hearts of readers for more than four decades. Critics were split, however, on whether Eggers's novel will enjoy the same long-lasting popularity. Its greatest appeal may stem from Eggers's ability to convey both the sense of wonder and the dark uncertainty that make up a typical childhood, though a few reviewers disagreed. The Times
, for example, called Max's outbursts an appalling symbol of "contemporary brattish America." The Washington Post
simply wished that authors would develop their own material (critics mentioned Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
as a horrific literary crime, not for the first time). Overall, younger readers may find much to enjoy here, but children and adults alike should start with the original.
In Eggers’ novel, adapted from Spike Jonze’s film of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Max is a robust, self-reliant boy who acts out in response to his parents’ divorce. After some particularly epic mischief, he runs away, finds a boat, and sails it to a land where large, destructive beasts are willing to recognize him as their king—but Max, as it turns out, is not a particularly good king. There are many pleasant surprises here, from the personalities of the wild things to the dreamlike particulars of their world. But it doesn’t feel like an organically grown story. Whether because of this book’s unique origins, or Eggers’ execution, or even the familiarity of the picture book, the drama here, unfortunately, comes less from Max’s adventures than from our interest in seeing how Eggers has managed the adaptation. Where Sendak’s book contains multitudes in a dozen sentences, Eggers uses nearly 300 pages to tease out a number of ideas, and his book still feels too long. Billed as an “all-ages novel,” The Wild Things feels too grown-up for most children and too childlike for most grown-ups. Its association with the movie may boost sales, but the book seems unlikely to last long in the popular imagination. --Keir Graff