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Vernon God Little: A 21st Century
Comedy in the Presence of Death
London: Faber and Faber, 2003.
£12.99, 279 pages, ISBN 0-571-21515-7.
Université de Rouen
Vernon God Little claims to be a 21st Century Comedy in the
Presence of Death. What hidden or blatant tragedy does such an oxymoronic
subtitle indeed portend? What intimate shame or public slaughter?
A tragedy of post-modern times or the inferno of a human condition prey to some
Peter Finlay, alias DBC Pierre is not howling for Martirio. This is his first
novel, staging both the character and the idiom of a fifteen-year-old Texan schoolboy
whose deceptive cynicism and fateful wanderings lead him on the verge of catastrophe.
The novel is divided into five acts, Shit happened, How I spent
my summer vacation, Against all odds, How my summer vacation
spent me, and Me ves y sufres.
Starting in medias res, it establishes from the incipit the duality
that feeds the diegesisIts hot as hell in Martirio, but the papers
on the porch are icy with the newsthus opposing in the purest Old
Comedy tradition the chorus-like community of Martirio to an anti-heroic narrated
and narrating I, Vernon God Little.
All the decisive constituents of the plot are then introduced as they would
be in a conventional whodunnit: a highly symbolical Tuesday, a psychotic axe-murderer,
Jordan new Jacks, Bar-B-Chew Barn boxes, caricatured police officersmonstrous,
amorphous, cartoon-like, typically Hansoniannowhere places given names,
reminiscent of Texas and Colorado, hyperbolical statements galore, a central
character permanently stabbed by a knife-like Freudian motherportraying
himself in self-derogatory termscolours, smells, sounds, all blending into
the final scent of lumber being cut for a fucken cross (11).
From Martirio to its Jesus and the smell of the cross, the long road to the Calvary
has begun for Vernon God Little.
Hence a narrative that keeps oscillating between event and commentary, between
dialogue and free indirect speech, the reader being simultaneously a witness
to both sides of a coiny situation opposing a public world of social
stereotypes and media hype to a private world of unutterable tragedies. In between,
on the edge of text, pervasive humour, bleaching and scraping the surface of
description, flirting with bad taste, swelling traits, emphasising bias through
systematic anamorphosis, generated by the distorted vision of an unreliable narrator
catching angles and obliques, and questioning the readers perception
of a text constantly shifting from margin to centre and back. The gallery of
portraits looks like a freaks show of deformity, a collection of grotesques,
undermining the familiar structure of existence and revealing that chaos is
An ogre-like neighbour Pam, whose voice rattles furniture, portends as much
misfortune as the fate clouds growing over the sun (13): prisoner of her coffin-like
old Mercury, Vernon attends his own mock-funeral, driven home through streets
along which girls are crying, mothers weeping, people devastated, while reporters
and camera people roam the streets in packs. (15) Inside his prison on
wheels, the bowed-headed Vernon resurrects the picture of a Jesus with his
silk pants, his affinities, and his terrors, Jesus Navarro, the mass murderer,
launched Vernon on his quest for truth and knowledge when he himself was trapped
and torn in-between the burning tongs of determinism that make freedom of choice
seem so futile.
The world around Vernon God Little is a world of women, a world of fat, cellulites,
diets and exaggeration, from which men seem progressively excluded; a world reduced
to the lingerie magazines and mantis oil pump framing the family cell, itself
dominated by a gigantic jelly matron chasing unlikely lovers; a world of guilt,
ready to engulf Vernon, all the better to reject him, the unwitting scapegoat
incarnating the lusts and vices of a hypocritical community, and embodying the
intolerable, the unthinkable, the unbearable.
A world whose tempo is rhymed by the life-beat of Vernons fucken-ridden
yet poetic idiom, pregnant with the anxiety of impossible self-definition.
a kid whose best friend took a gun into his mouth and blew off his hair,
whose classmates are dead, whos being blamed for it all,
who just broke his mamas heartand as I drag myself
inside under the weight of these slabs of moldy truth, into my
dark, brown ole lifeanother
learning flutters down to perch on top. A learning like a joke, that kicks
breath from my system. (113)
is accused of being accessory in the murder of sixteen of his classmates,
being the only survivor of the shooting
perpetrated by Jesus Navarro.
Haunting echoes of Columbine. Images flashing across the readers eyes.
Young lives sacrificed. Mothers mourning. Real tragedy. No irony there, no underlying
satire. Just cruelty, death and sorrow. Silence erupts (206).
Proof of Vernons innocence could yet be brought to light, were
it not so shameful for him to reveal what his mother calls his condition.
The only way out left is escape, going on the road, travelling to a foreign
and losing ones self
in the hope to find it again:
a wall of cancer clouds sliced clean across the border, cut with the
blade of God, because Mexican Fate wont tolerate any of that
shit down here. Intimate sounds spike the tide of travellers, the new
brothers and sisters
who spin me south down the highway like a pebble, helpless but brave
to the wave. (171-172)
the media are watching, peeping, disclosing, baring and exploding
individual lives. Their champion, Eulalio Ledesma,
has scented valuable
game and profit.
The hunt can begin, the live show is already on, the wood of the
pyre on which Vernon must burn is being collected. The novel then
conventional road movies, before it mutates into a novel of awakening,
permeated by social, political, and judicial criticism, leaving the
to avidly devour what could have been a plain dish of news.
The fourth power is in the bulls eye even as the medias firing squad
is targeting Vernon. The workings of the plot become as twisted as the insides
of a doped muckrakers mind; Gulliver-Vernon leaves the country of the
Big to enter the realm of the Small, he becomes the traveller of the first
epics, the neo-pilgrim experiencing a parenthesis in time, stopping Chronos
for a while, restoring the shadow of lost hope through young love and offered
But time comes flapping back and with it, the promise of expiation and redemption.
Back to the USA, the plot uncontrollably skids from the logical course of cause
and effect to the labyrinth of improbable happenings.
Reality TV invades fiction again and eradicates all attempts at saving
reason. Sinners become preachers, culprits become voters, the tragic-comedy
grows into a carnival whose evil spirit brings about and consecrates
the advent of the absurd. The irrationality and extravagances of
a world turned
destroy all possibilities of finding refuge in whatever values could
still be alive.
Speech is contaminated.
Big Brother is bawling for sacrifice.
And suddenly, the last straw is shaken from the camels back.
Time Magazine is back on the bench.
And we read the last words: everythings back to normal
The tribe is alive.
This is the end, beautiful friend
*And what happens here this review will not retrace for fear of spoiling
the pleasure of turning those unexpected pages.
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