Book Report: Hegg pens new book of verse on Dickens

by Dave Wood

I was happy to see the return of Tom Hegg to the circle of winning Minnesota authors.

Years and years ago, my wife and I spent about one night a week dining at a long-gone Minneapolis watering hole, Jimmy Hegg’s, which played host to scores of actors and media types.

His sons tended bar. One of them also was an actor at the Guthrie Theatre.

That would be young Tom, who was also working on a book of poetry, uncommon for a bartender in those days and he shared his progress with us because he knew we were English teachers.

When it finally came out, it was a big hit.  It was called “A Cup of Christmas Tea” and when the smoke cleared an astounding one and one half million copies were sold.

It told the story of a young man who goes to see his aunt before Christmas to have a cup of tea.

Well, Tom is no longer young tom, but now he’s middle-aged Tom and he is a master teacher at Breck School.

Every once in a while he returns to the stage. A few years back he played Charles Dickens in one of the Guthrie’s endless versions of  “A Christmas Carol.”

To prepare for the part, he read through the works of Dickens and decided to make use of is newfound knowledge by writing another book of verse, titled “Little Dickens: Droll and Most Extraordinary History,” illustrated by one of his former Breck students Kevin Cannon (Nodin Press, $19.95).

In his new book, Hegg departs from the fuzzily warm sentimentality of his earlier book, as he borrows a passel of characters from Dickens, who have a real edge and bawdiness to them.

He opens with a parody from “A Tale of Two Cities:

“It wasn’t quite the best of times,

nor was it quite the worst,

But kind of like the 0scars—

overdressed and unrehearsed.

We are introduced to a character like Pip, the erstwhile hero of “Great Expectations” through his dead mother,

“This bloom of grace and character,

whom Life had truly hosed.

What mystery!

How came she to so desperate an end?

Knocked up, with neither

husband by her side, nor even friend…”

Little Dickens (read Pip) is brought up by a “rustic couple.” He’s in love with the squire’s daughter (read Estella, Miss Havisham’s daughter), but that won’t come to much because

“How often had she ridden by,

Exuding chic allure,

While he’d been mucking out the stalls,

And reeking of manure.”

He laments:

“But here I am at seventeen,

in such a randy state,

With zero expectations!

where’s the effing Hand of Fate?”

Which turns out to be Marley’s Ghost?  Scrooge? It doesn’t matter because Little Dickens ends up with a bundle of money the ghost has earned in a ponzi scheme. I’m not going to tell you how this all ends because that would take the fun out of it for you.

Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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