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R&R 087 | Vernon God Little

[Edited March 28th at 9.30PM, to clarify & revise some things.]

DBC ("Dirty but Clean") Pierre
Vernon God Little
First published in: 2003
This edition: Faber and Faber, 2003
ISBN: 0-571-21517-3
Genre: contemporary fiction, satire
Number of pages: 277
Cover illustration by Scott Garrett

Let me please begin by saying:
what you see in the photo isn't real.
I'm not
that gross 😛


Sorry if you're disgusted though.

A couple of things about Vernon God Little. He's fifteen. He's from Martirio, Texas. His mother… well, she's a real piece of work; she's more worried about a fridge then she is about her kid. Vernon furthermore suffers from a syndrome I dub chronic gutter mouth of the kind that will give the entire cast and crew of Scarface a run for their money. Oh. And his best friend just went and shot up their high school.
Vernon didn't have anything to do with it. But his father's gun did. Vernon needs to find his dad's gun, and fast – because it will implicate him as an accessory to his friend's horrible crime.

Vernon is fifteen and cynical as they come. His narrative style takes some getting used to. (If you're not cool with swearing, this book is best left alone.)
The first opinion I formed while reading this one was that he does remind me of The Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield, but more even of George Lass ("Dead Like Me" – brilliantly played by Ellen Muth). There's a similar kind of disillusionment, a cynicism. But I never wanted to slap Caulfield or George in the face. Vernon, him I wanted to slap so hard, you'd see my handprint slowly develop, like a polaroid, to its rightfully pink shape.

Vernon's getting a high school shooting pinned on him simply for being the friend of the guy (named Jesus – like Vernon God, so 'aptly chosen', so unimpressive) that was actually, solely responsible. There's no need for proof: as far as Martirio is concerned, Vernon is guilty. Hmm. Okay.
Thing is, he lets them all think it. I wasn't impressed with Pierre's attempts to make Vernon seem like an unreliable narrator: I never once thought Vernon did it. Throughout the book, then, I wondered: why isn't this kid defending himself?! The kid infuriated me.

This is where the slapping in the face comes in. It's all quite unbelievable. [Edited to clarify] Because he's got proof that he wasn't there at the time of the killings. He took a dump in a field. He can prove he didn't do it. But he's too embarrassed. He'd rather let everyone think he's a killer than let people know he had to go potty. He does everything else he can not to go to jail. Except spill about the one thing that will set him free. A little turd, so frustratingly silly.

I would have understood Vernon one heck of a lot better had his alibi been something deeper, not a pile of poop. This? This didn't work for me. [/edit]

And even so, all sorts of stuff happens to Vernon, and he seems to be idly watching it all go down, running away but never standing up for himself. Any idiot who's innocent and can prove it will say [revised] "I didn't do it! I swear! I can prove it!" It's excrement, it's silly, but it's going to get you off the freakin' hook. So speak up! [/revise]
Are we supposed to accept Vernon's idleness simply because he's a teen who drops the f-bomb once every four sentences, who'd rather be convicted for mass murder than to have to say "Well, thing is, I had to do a number 2, and when you gotta go you gotta go"? No pun intended, but that's crappy plotting.

There's no real spunk to Vernon, no depth, and that's what disappointed me most. I wanted to like him but he's just as two-dimensional as everyone else in the book. Pierre is just using them as objects for satire.

Which is the general gist of the book, of course. Satire. This book is meant to give some sort of surreal look into the USA and its culture. Yes, DBC Pierre has got it right in some ways. The media in particular; reporting for sensationalism instead of truth… I mean, the recent Balloon Boy debacle, sans parody already absurd enough in itself, is an example of that. But is it new? Is it fresh? No, not really.

He was way off concerning the rest. I simply couldn't even take it with a grain of salt, knowing full well this book is meant to be satirical. Americans were portrayed as fat, ignorant and shallow. Even in the context of satire, I just really hate it when writers blatantly stereotype people and in this case, the whole state of Texas. It's more like, "hey look at me I'm being offensive but trying to wrap it up in a funny package, hoping I sound witty instead of just plain ignorant myself". (Pierre, a former con man, is an Australian living in Ireland.)
Stereotyping is lame. It's not new, it's not cool, it's not clever. It's a lazy attempt at humor, and it falls flat for me.

Speaking of lazy: the ending was wrapped up in a jiffy, and it's all so convenient. Cynicism got booted from the story and let the door hit its ass on the way out. I'd rather have the story end dramatically, to be honest. Would have made an impact of some kind that way. Now I was just thinking, "Ooooooof course".

To be fair, I did finish the book and I liked certain aspects of it. The narrative and dialogue at times was so bizarrely and imaginatively phrased, I actually had quite a few laughs there. At other times, it was a bit much: a fifteen year-old who loves dumb jokes, but regularly spouts out poetically formed sentences used to describe random observations…?
Vernon's penchant for cussing and his knack for beautiful wording are both a bit much, then; despite that, DBC Pierre did really make me feel like I was reading about a fifteen year-old kid. It's eerie almost.
Finally, Pierre didn't sensationalize the shooting, which I think was a (or the only) classy decision. Leave that subject to authors who knows how to handle it.
Taken as just another book, Vernon God Little is doable.

The satire, however, turned into overkill: a circus I've already visited many times before. Same acts, same show. It's not a worthy 'next Catcher in the Rye' after all. I can take over the top from authors such as Christopher Moore, because the guy's anything but pretentious. But from a Booker Prize winning book, a book this ambitious, I simply expect something more – I expected it to have an impact. Yet apart from wanting to kick Vernon's behind, VGL didn't really make me feel anything. I finished the book, and even as I'm typing the end to this review find myself not even really caring.

Vernon God Little: despite that big award, it's got little.

Q: help me sleep tonight. What IS actually in the photo?
A: gingerbread cake & soysauce. Makes for excellent, gross faux-turds.

R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008-2010 (and beyond)

Karin Elizabeth
  • Julia

    i'm impressed that you could finish it. i'm not exactly a princess made of sugar and rainbows but i was deeply disgusted by the book, i got to 1/4 and then put it away.

    March 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm
  • Dit is Suzanne

    Ik twijfel al een tijdje of dit boek niet toch eens zou moeten lezen. Na jouw recensie heb ik besloten dat het nog wel even kan wachten..

    March 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm
  • Lisa-Marie

    I read this about 4 years ago, and whilst there were parts I found unrealistic, I really enjoyed it.

    The one thing i strongly disagree with in what you said is that you'd expect he would stand up for himself. There are alot of kids in the world who grow up thinking their lives will go a certain way and that's it – that they are doomed to a mediocre life at best, or prison, and I think this attitude is portrayed well in Vernon.

    Oh, and if you are looking for the new Catcher in the Rye, try King Dork by Frank Portman.

    March 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm
  • Karin Elizabeth

    Love how you put that: a princess made of sugar and rainbows. I'm not one either 😉 I managed with VGL, but I also have had moments when I couldn't stomach a book. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk being a good example. I understand 😉

    Maar het is altijd een kwestie van smaak. Wie weet lees jij hem dan toch over een tijdje en vind je het een hartstikke goed boek 😛
    Ik zelf vond hem gewoon te belachelijk om echt goed te zijn en kan hem niet aanraden.

    Oh, I do see what you mean. Definitely 🙂 I've been fifteen, and it wasn't… pleasant for me either. I don't expect "all kids to always stand up for themselves". Oh, how harsh that would be. I have taken this into account as I was reading of course, but it wasn't so much about that for me personally.
    Maybe if I put it like this: I would have understood Vernon better if DBC Pierre had made the alibi (which is what Vernon doesn't speak up about) not about a pile of poo, but about something deeper.
    And, when accused of mass murder, I would expect anyone, anyone, to freak out and speak up when they're innocent AND have the alibi/evidence to prove it, no matter how embarrassing. Even more so when, as in Vernon's case, it's something as silly as a turd in a field, which is NOT worse than being seen as a murderer by everyone-and-their-aunt, including your own mother. Would he really rather be a killer than a pooper? Apparently so.
    Then again, he doesn't accept it either – he tries to find his dad's gun so as not to be implicated. He flees to Mexico. So much trouble he goes through now. So much worse his situation gets. The contradiction here is that Vernon doesn't WANT to be implicated. He doesn't WANT to go to jail. But don't mention that turd, the turd that in the end does actually set him free.
    All this is what doesn't make sense to me. And why I wanted to slap that kid. I wanted to shake him and say: "Who cares that you took a crap in a field?!"
    My opinion differs, but not because I think all kids should always stand up for themselves. No, it's not always that simple :/
    In Vernon's specific case, I felt it was a ridiculous situation to begin with and it was frustrating that he didn't open his mouth, considering all of his other actions. (But if he did open his mouth, would there be a story left? The whole thing just doesn't work for me.)
    Wow – Sorry for the load of text! 😛 Thank you for your reaction, sharing your perspective. It made me think a little more. Love that.
    I will have a look at the title you mentioned. Thank you for the rec! 🙂

    Gosh. Long, long comment. Thanks everyone for your input! 🙂

    March 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm

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