"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Egads, my regards to the good Dr. Roberts. I'm sure its been fifteen years since I've seen him. In fact I think the last time I saw him was at an Altogether Morris or Doug Feaver gig in Hamilton the night before he left to go to teacher's college at U of Western Ont.

my latest book review for the paper......sorry about the length.

Vernon God Little
By DBC Pierre
Published by Faber and Faber

By Kevin Wood
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Acid-tongued author Dorothy Parker once remarked, “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit down next to me."
Judging by the delightfully dark and vicious satire of Vernon God Little, author DBC Pierre ought to pull up a chair.
“Dirty But Clean” Pierre is the pen name of Australian-born British novice author Peter Findlay, who reportedly grew up in Mexico and now lives in Ireland. How much first-hand experience Findlay has had with small town America is an open question, but in Vernon God Little he shows us the face of Martirio, Texas, highlighting every scar, wart, pimple and wrinkle in a way it hasn’t been done since Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
Vernon God Little – A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death was a hit with critics in Britain, but the book has not been published in the United States and given the subject matter, it isn’t likely to see print there any time soon.
The book is a darkly comic account of the aftermath of a Columbine-style massacre at a small town high school, told in fluent profanity by Vernon G. Little. The G stands for Gregory, but also for Genius, God, Gonad, Gucci, Godzilla—an ever-changing middle name that is one of several running jokes in the novel.
Vernon, 15, was spared in the massacre by the need to move his bowels while running an errand for his teacher. When he returns to the school, his best friend, long the target of his classmates’ homophobic and racist abuse, is dead by his own hand, having first gunned down his entire class. As the only survivor, Vernon is sure he is about to become the town’s “skate-goat” and the novel opens with him being interrogated by an a swinish and sadistic barbecue-eating sheriff’s deputy who is convinced there must have been a second gunman.
“When the rubbing of her thighs has faded, I crane my nostrils for any vague comfort; a whiff of warm toast, a spearmint breath. But all I whiff, over the sweat and the barbecue sauce, is school—the kind of pulse bullyboys give off when they spot a quiet one, a wordsmith, in a corner. The scent of lumber being cut for a f----- cross.”
As the media descends en masse on the “barbecue sauce capital of America” and the minions of the law get closer to a misleading, but nonetheless damning piece of evidence, Vernon is too embarrassed to reveal his fecal alibi. His mother seems more concerned with materialistic one-upmanship, sleeping with a sleazy reporter and “trolling the town for sympathy” than doing anything to help her son, though she does reassure him in front of the police and press that “Even murderers are loved by their families, you know.” Vernon decides to head for Mexico, only to have every murder in the state tacked onto the list of crimes he’s now wanted for.
Vernon’s eventual capture, trial and incarceration on a death row that has been turned into a “reality TV” series in which viewers vote on which inmate should be executed next, ends happily -- as all comedies should, with Vernon's returns to his small-town life in a world more Jerry Springer than Norman Rockwell.
The cast of characters are named with a flair worthy of Thomas Pynchon: Sheriff Porkorney and his deputy Vaine Gurie, housewife Leona Dunt, journalistic poseur Eulalio ‘Lally’ Ledesma, sensitive teacher Marion Knuckles, high school redneck Lothar ‘Lard-Ass’ Larbey.
The author has managed to capture the profanity-laden vernacular of 15-year-old boys to perfection and voice of Vernon is absolutely authentic. Vernon’s near-miss cultural references to “Princess Debbie, or whoever the princess was who died” and “Ricardo Moltenbomb, or whoever Mom’s favorite was who had the dwarf on Fantasy Island” provide a comic counterpoint of innocence to the to petty maneuverings of the likes of Leona Dunt, an “almost pretty blonde with a honeysuckle voice you know got its polish from rubbing on her last husband’s wallet” who “only shows up when she has at least two things to brag about.”
It would be a mistake to write the book off as simply another tasteless swipe at pop culture. Many doubtless have been offended by the notion of a humorous take on something as horrific as the Colombine massacre and Vernon God Little is a merciless, nasty and at times intentionally offensive piece of work. However, it is also screamingly funny, truer than any of the news coverage of similar events and written with exceptional skill. By turning the satiric razor on such a tragic event, the author manages to provide some insight into how and why such hideous incidents occur. As the collective memory of the real tragedy fades, Vernon God Little is apt to gradually acquire the status of a vulgarian Catcher in the Rye.

No comments: