Anyone who read and loved The Catcher in the Rye will love DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (Harcourt; 2003; 277), winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize. It contains the teenage hormonal angst, the classic misunderstanding, and a heavy dose of teen-lingo and more. The more in DBC Pierre's book - a pseudonym that is almost eponymous to the names of several of the entities in the industry he satirised - is the 'provocatively satirical, riotously funny look at violence, materialism, and the American media' that were the major concern of the this book.
In the town of Martirio, sixteen students have been killed. And the town's police officers are working hard to get a culprit by all means necessary, even though the murderer - the Mexican Jesus Navarro - had committed suicide after his slaughter. Enter Vernon Gregory Little, a misunderstood boy of almost-sixteen from a single-parent family and the only friend of Jesus. Vernon's appearance (unshaved hair), Nike boots, dressing and lingo fit the crime and could be the accessory the police officer Vaine Gurie, charged to improve upon her appalling prosecution statistics or be demoted, is looking for. And this is where the drama begins.
Vernon narrates the story, telling it in a language that all teens are familiar with, filled with teen-inspired words similar to Caufield but more caustic, if one does the mathematics: fifty-eight years between the publication of both books, and none is futuristic in its settings. Vernon begins with his first 'hold-up' and interview by Vaine and his subsequent rescue by Palmyra, a woman fattened on Prittikin diet from Bar-B-Chew Barn and a friend of his mother, Doris. Yet, later the police and prosecutor would agree that he escaped detention. As the town mourns its losses, a mysterious man - Eulalio Ledesma, Lally for short, would appear. Lally would befriend Doris and and her coterie of friends, thinly 'fall' in love with Doris, a widow and an obese - surpassed only by her closest friend Pam. Through tricks and plain deceit, Lally would gain control of Doris's life and Vernon's case and Doris, having found 'love' would inadvertently 'sell' her son's problem to him. He would establish a TV Reality show out of it, which would broadcast live the lives of Vern and his family and would follow him wherever he went. Angered by Lally, Vernon would show several times that Lally was a liar and an impostor seeking to capitalise on her mother's ignorance for personal gain, but what are the words of an accused 'murderer' to that of a lover if not utter nonsense. Lally, with the corporations behind him, would sponsor the investigation that would lead to uncovering the truth, his truth - which means the arrest and sentence of Vernon. Vernon, a boy of little experience in life, with several incriminating evidences against him: fingerprints on a second gun the police and the SWAT team are looking for, faecal matter he wouldn't disclose, a stash of drugs (hemp and LSD), finally decided that he would crossover to Mexico. Again, his complete ignorance of his situation mixed with that adolescence illusion that bundle love, lust and sex into a veritable Elysium that must be sought- and here Holden Caufield's call to Sally Hayes when he decided to run away comes to mind - caused him to call Taylor Figueroa, a lady whose cousin is the new woman Lally is going out with in Doris's coterie, to run away with him. This adolescence illusion is reflected in Vernon's own statement:
A TV scientist wouldn't give great odds of a college girl running away in the heat of the moment with a fifteen-year-old slimeball like me, not after a relationship spanning twenty-nine words. But that's fucken TV scientists for you. Next thing they'll be telling you not to eat meat.Taylor would entertain him, and corner him in Mexico to achieve her own dream of working in the media.
Whilst on the trip to Mexico, unbeknownst to him, several deaths would occur, some farther from his route, but all would be attributed to this fifteen-year old boy whose only weapon, a twenty dollar bill, was robbed off him by a security guard at the Mexican border post. Back home, in metal cage, his trial would begin and after several cross-examination and the prosecutor's inability to 'prove beyond all reasonable doubt' that Vernon committed the murders both at home and away from home, he was charged with murder for the sixteen school children and innocent for the eighteen others. And again, this mistrial filled with an objective of getting someone pay for a crime - regardless of his innocence - was similar to what faced Atticus Finch in his defense of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.
I get an enlightenment about the ten years it feels like I've been listening to this whole crowd of powerdime spinners, with their industry of carpet-fiber experts, and shrinks and all, who finish me off with their goddam blah, blah, blah. And you know the State ain't flying any experts down for me. What I learned is you need that industry, big time. Because, although you ain't allowed to say it, and I hope I ain't doing The Devil's Work by saying it myself - Reasonable Doubt just don't apply anymore. Not in practice, don't try and tell me it does. Maybe if your cat bit a neighbor's hamster, like with Judge Judy or something. But once they ship in extra patrol cars, and build a zoo cage in court, forget it. You have to come up with simple, honest-to-goodness proof of innocence, that anybody can tell just bey watching TV. Otherwise they hammer through nine centuries of technical evidence, like a millennium of back-to-back math classes, and it's up in there that they wipe out Reasonable Doubt.All these were shown live on Ledesma (or Lally's) new TV reality show; Ledesma, a Service Technician working in his blind mother's room, had risen to riches and fame.
Sentence to death by lethal injection, Vernon would come to understand his position and all anger would fly away; his language would change from those teen-inspired jargons to those that reflected this understanding. Having matured overtime and having accepted his fate, Vernon was prepared to die but after meeting a strange black man in prison he knew he would not go down without a fight if only he would just stop been 'too darn embarrased to play God' and 'give the people what they want'.
In the end, a series of revelations would show how much there is to life in Martirio, how much everybody played a part in the massacre of the school children, including the school children themselves who ceaselessly taunted Jesus Navarro, Dr Goosens - a psychiatrist who did more than his profession dictates, Mr Nuckles the class teacher, Doris who put love of self above love of his son and many others.
From Vernon's narrative we see that though he was immature he was also perceptive of events around him. He knew that his friend Jesus Navarro needed a role model but not the kind that Mr Nuckles provided:
[He] needed a different role model, but nobody was there for him. Our teacher Mr. Nuckles spent all kinds of time with him after school, bu I ain't sure ole powder-puff Nuckles and his circus of fancy words really count.
In Vernon God Little, DBC had shown that teenage violence, like the Columbine Massacre, don't just spring up but has roots and is a consequence of several factors. But are we listening? so that we stopped being symptom managers to root-cause solvers. The humorous part of the story revolves around the media's role in the unfolding event when almost everybody was eager either to appear on TV - including Doris or to be part of the reporting crew and when the town's people and the law enforcers want to punish someone at all cost. In fact, Lally instituted a voting system in addition to his Reality TV where the public vote for the next inmate on Death Row to be executed. So much was the media's vulturing of news about the murders that the small town of Martirio, in the state of Texas, overnight became a commercial town booming with activities. Again, through this novel, DBC provided a commentary on the disintegration of (American) families, the quest for riches and fame and that consumerism that had swallowed this current generation. And later Vernon would himself enjoy from his troubles, courtesy a book deal.
This book reminded me of several books and movies that franchise American prisons; the likes of The Condemned (starring Stone Cold Steve Austin) and Death Race (Starring Jason Statham). This novel is necessary and has come at an appropriate time where findings of improper trials that wrongly landed several people in jail keep increasing.
Note: This book was read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.