Vernon God Little: A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death
In the town jail of Martirio, Texas — under the terrifying care of the dynastic Gurie family, and wearing only his New Jack trainers and underpants — fifteen-year-old Vernon Little is in trouble. His friend has just blown away sixteen of his classmates before turning the gun on himself. And Vernon has become the focus of the whole town’s need for vengeance, and the media’s appetite for sensational content — true or not. When the tricky Mr. Lesdema arrives in town — with a covert mission to promote himself from TV repairman to crack CNN reporter — Vernon thinks he has an ally. In fact, Lesdema is a villain of Machiavellian proportions. Vernon soon realizes that in this modern world innocence is definitely no defense. One distasteful arrangement with old Mr. Deutschman and $300 later, Vernon is headed for the border, for freedom and Mexico, and a much-anticipated date with the nigh-mythical Taylor Figueroa. But Texas isn’t finished with Vernon yet. Vital, riotously funny, and energetic, Vernon God Little puts lust for vengeance, materialism, and trial by media squarely in the dock. Vernon himself emerges as the lovable upholder of love, truth, and homespun wisdom in a world gone mad.
The surprise winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize, DBC Pierre’s debut novel, Vernon God Little, makes few apologies in its darkly comedic portrait of Martirio, Texas, a town reeling in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting. Fifteen-year-old Vernon Little narrates the first-person story with a cynical twang and a four-letter barb for each of his diet-obsessed townsfolk. His mother, endlessly awaiting the delivery of a new refrigerator, seems to exist only to twist an emotional knife in his back; her friend, Palmyra, structures her life around the next meal at the Bar-B-Chew Barn; officer Vaine Gurie has Vernon convicted of the crime before she’s begun the investigation; reporter Eulalio Ledesma hovers between a comforting father-figure and a sadistic Bond villain; and Jesus, his best friend in the world, is dead—a victim of the killings. As his life explodes before him, Vernon flees his home in pursuit of a tropical fantasy: a cabin on a beach in Mexico he once saw in the movie Against All Odds. But the police—and TV crews—are in hot pursuit.
Vernon God Little is a daring novel and demands a patient reader, not because it is challenging to read—Pierre’s prose flows effortlessly, only occasionally slipping from the unmistakable voice of his hero—but because the book skates so precariously between the almost taboo subject of school violence and the literary gamesmanship of postmodern fiction. Yet, as the novel unfolds, Pierre’s parodic version of American culture never crosses the line into caricature, even when it climaxes in a death-row reality TV show. And Vernon, whose cynicism and smart-ass “learnings” give way to a poignant curiosity about the meaning of life, becomes a fully human, profoundly sympathetic character. —Patrick O’Kelley