A googly-eyed bug merrily buzzes around a house. One minute he is literally “on top of the world” (having alighted on a globe), and the next he is sucked into the dark oblivion of a vacuum cleaner. Finding himself imprisoned among the detritus of bottle caps, toothpicks, and playing cards, the wee fly experiences Kübler-Ross-like stages of grief. His emotional upheaval starts with delusional denial (“Could this be … a surprise party?”), moves to pleading (“Can I be vacuumed next Monday instead?”), followed by seething rage (“NO MORE MR. NICE FLY”), tearful despondency (“My dreams are crushed”), and, finally, acceptance (“I’ll appreciate what I have”). A light at the end of the nozzle beckons toward a brighter future.
Wordplay abounds as the loquacious bug fires verbal jabs at the universe. Aside from the winged hero’s soliloquies, the text in this substantial, 96-page picture book is minimal. A wordless parallel storyline of loss and renewal also plays out with the family’s dog, Napoleon, and his doppelgänger, a beloved chew toy. Funny parodies of vintage commercials introduce each quirky chapter, with “Denial” brought to you by a “Fine and Dandy” aerosol can that contains “an ounce of doubt and gallons of disbelief.”
Mélanie Watt’s retro-styled illustrations are kitschy, cool, mid-modern masterpieces, showcasing Formica kitchen tables, forest- green shag carpeting and a hula-dancer lamp. In the wildly inventive vacuum cleaner purgatory scenes, the bug makes a repurposed world out of the jumble of sucked-up objects, wielding a cotton swab as a sword, and fashioning a flag out of a Band-Aid. A poignant relationship between the bug and his dog-toy fellow inmate emerges through the dust-bunny haze. Fresh beginnings are revealed in the ending: a bird builds a nest out of the toy, Napoleon meets his canine Josephine, and the empty box of a brand new vacuum cleaner is propped outside the house.
Bug in a Vacuum is original, witty, and moving.