Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Vernon God Little
Well, apparently I'm fitting myself right into a stereotype. Lots of reviews I browsed have noted that Americans tend to dislike Vernon God Little - and I really didn't enjoy this book very much or understand why it merits a Booker Prize.
The story is told by a 15-year old narrator, who is a survivor after a school shooting and was the shooter's best and only friend. Vernon is suspected by the townspeople of having had something to do with the shooting. And because the shooter turned the gun on himself, they are looking for someone still living to blame. Vernon makes several terrible choices that only demonstrate to the police and to the news media covering the story that he is guilty. I suppose this was perceived as a relevant if gritty topic, after Columbine in 1999 was followed by other similar news events. I was a high-school student during the peak of that era. But this story failed to resonate with me.
I think the author, DBC Pierre (a pseudonym) was attempting to write satire about big issues in American- particularly Texan-culture: the media's all powerful and corrupting influence; gun control and violence; fast food, obesity and the diet obsession; the myth of the classless society; the American judicial system and the death penalty; and, perhaps, Christianity. I get that he discusses these issues, and paints a not-flattering picture, but that's not really what I dislike about this book. I just didn't think this novel says anything new or interesting about these issues - it didn't make me see any of this in a new, or different way, and his insights are muddled and trite. It just seemed to me like an excuse to stereotype and then laugh at a perception of American culture that is only partially true.
Perhaps the only parts of the story that I was able to appreciate were small moments when the narrator behaves in a way that really brought to life the mixed-up fifteen-year-old kid he was meant to be. He has major conflicted feelings about his mother, and the guilt she applies like twisting a knife in his back. His instinct to bottle his feelings and failure to communicate with the outside world in any meaningful way -- even when those feelings and communications could save him a world of trouble -- rang true for me. And apparently for others, as several people apparently really enjoyed this book.