The language on the dust jacket and in the reviews of Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre (Faber & Faber) is of the “biting satire,” “hilarious romp” variety, but I was not amused. The premise really works: Vernon, an American high school kid, comprehends things by the way they sound, not necessarily how they actually are. But Vernon is more sad than funny. He is ignorant, not because he can’t or won’t know stuff but because he lives in poverty, surrounded by mean, bitter, narrow, ignorant people in a small town in Texas. Because of that and a bit of circumstantial evidence, Vernon gets blamed for a gory high school shooting.
He responds by running, and every step of the way I thought he would make it. After being interrogated at the police station, he just walks out. He got away! I thought. Then he figures out how to get some money from an old perv. He’s getting away! I thought. Finally he gets a decent lawyer. He’s going to get off! I thought, although by then the story seemed to be about someone not getting away, about someone getting so caught up in a social and media circus that the truth ceases to matter. Wrong again.
So many issues in this novel: media manipulation, social justice, guns, adolescence, pedophilia, mother love and even a redemptive ghost in the machine. But much-delayed information on the shooting. In Hey Nostradamus, the facts of the incident unfold gradually, in flashback, consistent with the narrative style of the book. In Vernon God Little the narrative is more chunky and the facts of the incident don’t matter to the story.
Maybe that’s all right—the real story is what happened later, in the “barbecue sauce capital of Texas” and in Vernon Little.