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Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
Member Name: Mauri
Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre
Date: 09/01/07, updated on 10/01/07 (1032 review reads)
Advantages: Funny, intelligent, a great read.
Our hero is Vernon Little a 15year-old boy living in the small town of Martirio in Texas whose only claim to fame seem to be that it is the barbecue sauce capital of Central Texas! Vernon Little is one step above what some more unkind commentators would describe as white trash. He’s from a single parent family, his abusive father having left when he was younger. His mother obsessed with keeping up appearances beyond their means is struggling to cope and Vernon is no help, failing at school and alienated from almost everyone. When a Columbine style school massacre happens at Vernon’s high school he is put in the spot light by way of his friendship with the boy behind the massacre Jesus Navarro. Jesus takes his own life after the killing spree however the small community and the sensation seeking media is not happy with the fact that the perpetrator of the crime is dead and they are looking around for someone that they can punish for what has happened. Vernon fits the bill and before he knows what is happening he is accused as an accomplice to the murders. At first this seems ludicrous to Vernon he wasn’t even in school at the time the killings happened but through a series of blunders and the media’s interest the case against him becomes more convincing. In desperation Vernon turns to an initially friendly news reporter Eulalio Ledesma who looks like “ole Ricardo Moltenbomb” on Fantasy Island, for help. The reporter’s simple reading of the situation convinces him that getting his side of the story in the news will help.
“Only underdogs and psychos in this world!”
Unfortunately this backfires and Ledesma becomes his greatest foe as he begins to turn manipulate the facts and turns the whole of the small community against him. Vernon’s only option as he sees it is to run away.
Vernon God Little is a modern satire on American life, the nature of justice and the power of the media. It tries to debunk the idea of the modern American dream, which is now only visible to most people in America from what they see portrayed on TV. The community is corrupted by an ambition to become part of that glossy TV world. Some of the characters in the story will gladly demean and prostitute themselves to achieve the ultimate prize working on TV. The fact that the killer name was Jesus and the town Martirio is Spanish for martyrdom is no mistake but symbolic of Vernon’s plight.
What struck me first about this book is the strength of the main character Vernon Little. His engagement with the reader his portrayal of the world from his viewpoint as a disillusioned teenager was realistic and seemed spoken is accurate language (at least to this 40 something reader who can still vaguely remember something or teenage angst!). Vernon is very witty in a crass way his words punctuated by ‘fucken’, ‘goddam’ and ‘chrissakes’. I suppose the comparisons with ‘Catcher In The Rye’ especially between Vernon and Holden Caulfield the alienated teenager of that earlier novel will be inevitable but are also fair although I would say this is a far more mature book and will be accessible to an older readership that Salinger’s novel. The prose is peppered with some inventive and sharp turns of phrase mostly out of the mouth of Vernon, which produce a truly funny read. The Narrative is fast moving and slightly Kafkaesque in the way that every attempt of Vernon’s to extricate himself from his dilemma seems to fall into ruin by fateful events beyond his control.
The story if examined closely is tragic and dealt with some very dark themes yet it remains extremely funny as each episode becomes more farcical than the last. The most telling thing is how the increasingly bleak situation for Vernon although implausible on one level surely the truth would come out on another level is believable as the bureaucracy of the judicial system, the need for the community to achieve ‘proper’ closure after the murders in the form of punishment and the hunger of the media for an unfolding event rather than yesterday’s news. You can almost imagine this happening, which is scary!
We find many of the themes in the book have been drawn from the author’s somewhat colourful life. Born in Australia but growing up in Mexico in a privileged English family DBC Pierre (‘Dirty But Clean’ a nickname picked up in childhood) real name Peter Warren Finlay initially grew up in an idyllic wealthy surrounding but after a change in government bringing in new finance regulation his family lost most of the money they had and this Pierre claims was the start of his slide into drug abuse and crime including selling a friend’s house and then using the money to fund his drug habit. It is evident from the section in the book relating to Mexico that Pierre still has a fondness for the country and it’s people especially the poor working class who still manage to show attitude and dignity even in their lowly position in Mexican society. He describes how a Mexican truck driver he befriends enter roadside cafe
“He takes off his hat to slide in to the roadhouse, cool and straight like he’s wearing guns”
An example of showing self-confidence and pride an attitude Vernon Little quickly tries to adopt. You can also imagine that Pierre’s experience with drugs and the associated lifestyle in his teens would have informed him of the kind life teenagers like Vernon must live where in such dead end situations they see self gratification and drug taking as being the only worthwhile activities that are open to them.
The novel I populated by wildly colourful side characters from Pam, Vernon’s aunt who is constantly preoccupied with Vernon being fed properly, invariably meaning a trip to Bar-B-Chew Barn the local fast food retailer. The Gurie ‘clan’, a family that seems to populate many of the important jobs in Martirio also provides many comic touches as does Vernon’s dealings with the airhead beauty Taylor Figueroa his high school ‘wet dream’ who he imagines running away with him to live in a beach house in Mexico…
“Like in that ole movie called Against All Odds, where this babe has a beach-house in Mexico”.
Some of the best moments in the story are the interplay between Vernon’s mum and her circle of female friends all engaged in a constant battle of one-upmanship and sly digs ate each other.
“Leona Hunt only shows up when she has at least two things to brag about, that’s how you know your position in life. She needs about five things to go to the Lechungas’, so we’re junior league. Fetus league, even.”
Vernon’s mum I found to be an irritating character, initially through Vernon’s eyes being a obstacle to everything he would like to do with his life but as the story unfolds becoming more sympathetic to the reader and finally even to Vernon as he realises how tragic her existence has been up to now. Apart form the quality and skill of the writing overall the plot is well structured and contains enough surprises to keep you page turning.
I was wrong to be cynical of this prize-winning book at least. ‘Vernon God Little’ is a wonderful debut by a writer that has managed to update the theme of teenage rebellion and alienation for our time. It is an excellent read, witty, colourful and extremely funny to the extent that you almost forget how dark its subject matter really is. At only 288 pages in paperback it is an easy and extremely enjoyable read possibly a classic in the making?
Vernon God Little can be bought at Amazon for £3.99-paperback ISBN-13: 978-0571215164 (+ p&p) at the time this review was written.
If you’ve read and liked J D Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller then try this. Highly Recommended!
© Mauri 2007
Summary: A stunning debut novel! As Vernon would say it 'fucken' rocks!