The International Writers Magazine: Review

Vernon God Little By D B C Pierre
278pp, Faber, £7.99
Dean Betts Review

A serious tale of a dystopic now, comedic only for the novel’s personal voice which comes from an oppressed fifteen year old called Vernon Little. Vernon discovers how difficult life can become for a manufactured scapegoat, dreamed up by the elite few which Edward Bernays loved to talk about when he was able to sell cigarettes to women for the first time, on account of them being healthy, according to doctors.

Dirty But Clean Pierre’s satiric Vernon God Little tells the story of an unfortunate young man who finds himself knee deep in societies anal discharge, (which is usually referred to as every day life) when his best friend, Jesus Navarro commits a crime resembling Columbine; shooting himself and 16 other students dead at their school in Martirio, Texas. Nearly literate Vernon is forced to run to Mexico in a desperate bid to put all the grief behind him. However, he soon finds out it’s not so easy to escape the grasp of police deputy, Vaine Gurie, (whose job hangs in the balance as she has not recently made enough successful arrests) in combination with Lally, a manipulating TV reporter trying to make his fortune from documenting the reaction to this series of tragic events. The innocent Vernon only succeeds in digging himself a bigger hole.
Lally, who at first we suppose may be able to help Vernon prove his innocence, instead focuses the power of mass media which he has harnessed, against him, whilst living with Vern’s own mother. Vernon is enraged by his confused but loving mother who as well as siding with Lally, the man who appears to be replacing Vernon’s missing father; assumed dead by everyone but the insurance company, she continues to turn the knife in his back which has been there since he was a youngster.
‘I’ll tell you a learning: knife-turners like my ole lady actually spend their waking hours connecting shit into a humongous web, just like spiders. It’s true. They take every word in the fucken universe, and index it back to your knife. In the end it doesn’t matter what words you say, you feel it on your blade. Like, “Wow, see that car?” “Well it’s the same blue as that jacket you threw up on at the Christmas show, remember?” What I learned is that parents succeed by managing the database of your dumbness and your slime, ready for combat. They’ll cut you down in a split fucken second, make no mistake; much quicker than you’d use the artillery you dream about.’
There are many ‘learnings’ in the text, one of which being the respect for unconditional love, the kind given by his mother which should be respected despite all of her shortcomings. These involve her telling people at every opportunity that he shits himself, saying that he should really empathise with an issue her friend is having, on the very day he sentenced to death, and constantly reminding reporters that ‘even murderers are loved by their mothers.’ Vernon does point out that he is on trial for accessory to murder as opposed to murder, but as the novel develops the significance of facts seems to lessen, as every character seeks justification of their own selfish truths and beliefs in order to gain status or wealth.
Almost every action in the plot (other than those of Vernon who spends most of his time trying to avoid arrest), is dictated by status or wealth. Obesity, bullying, consumerism and mass media influence are some of the issues explored here, all with a kind of South Park spin, a show which I suspect Pierre may be a fan of. We witness the ‘Bar-B-Chew Chicken’ company’s rise to power with a familiar air of ‘McDonaldisation’. Footwear also evolves over the course of the tale, as we see a character in Timberlands near the end, Nikes are out, or Vernon’s are at least, which means a hell of a lot to a teen from Martirio. Eric Cartman, I mean, Vernon, is the only one who seems to journey anywhere intellectually however. Certainly the other characters don’t, nor does society within the book, as we see a kid receiving a gun as a gift toward the end, suggesting that the whole disaster could easily happen again:
‘Brad thumps onto the porch behind us.
“B-ooom! Suck shit muthafucka!”
“That better not be loaded.” says Betty. “Bradley Pritchard! Don’t you point that thing, or it’ll go right back to the store!”

I'm not sure the reader is really transported anywhere other than into Martirio and back out again if they have a knowledge of current affairs before reading Vernon God Little. The book serves as a reminder, a smart kick in the ass, but doesn’t necessarily teach us anything, or need to for enjoyment to be had. The book is rammed with humour from start to finish, most of it just plain wrong, but lapped up by the reader as we find ourselves living and breathing through Vernon. Everything which Vernon feels is naturalized as we identify with him after just a few pages. We accept every twist thrown at us by Pierre, not questioning the living ideology that is Vernon Little.
Picking the book up again was the only cure for my swearing at everyone around me as Vernon does in his head. This is a book which chewed me up and refused to spit me out; absorbed I was, tasting the blood and dust of Martirio with each new line. A constant flow of comedic moments were key to the hypnosis cast upon me by the read, almost as effectively as Lally was able to impose his story on the community:
‘Jesus Navarro was born with six fingers on each hand, and that wasn’t the most different thing about him'.

Though there is much mention of panties their fragrance and stained colours, the book confronts serious societal issues; the story really hangs on a question posed by Jesus at the beginning which Vernon is completely unable to get his Texan head around: ‘If things don’t happen unless you see them happening – do they still happen if you know they’re gonna – but don’t tell nobody…?’ Vernon God Little asks the question: Can we get away with just ignoring the problems in today’s society? No.

So does Pierre succeed in informing us about society’s current situation? Yes I suppose he does, and if we look past the extraordinary voice in which the novel is presented, a deeper meaning is found, which isn’t to say however that the subject hasn’t been covered before.
Some may say that Vernon God Little explores rather obvious modern day issues. Indeed Joyce Carol Oates of the New Yorker turns Vernon’s quote: ‘I already know I’ll be offering a service, I just have to Position and Package the thing.’ Against Pierre, claiming that perhaps all he has done is recycle or repackage ideas of a socially sinking America, spinning them off at another angle, from another’s perspective.
That’s all very well, but in my eyes which are in tune with Vern’s, (and would have been long before had books as well written as this been readily available on such subject matter), if you can identify with the song that this book sings, even if its not the same virgin performance of the message, as the book is for Pierre, you can at least give yourself a pat on the back as you see your world slip into the hands of the Bernay’s ‘elite few’ represented in Vernon God Little by the likes of Nike and ‘Bar-B-Chew Chicken’, but like: hell, just enjoy the read, it’s worthy, god.

© Dean Betts Jan 2007


Dean is studying Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth

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