Finding Humor In The Crudeness

Rude, immature, inappropriate--"Vernon God Little," DBC Pierre's Man Booker Prize-winning debut, seems to bring out the schoolmarm in critics. I mean, I'd call it all those things, and I like the book. But the fact is, you're not supposed to write a novel about a Columbine-like school-shooting spree in the barbecue-sauce (nice touch) capital of central Texas--or anywhere else, for that matter. Some things just aren't funny. That truism, though, is one that you just know Pierre would disagree with. Otherwise, we wouldn't have this high-energy, inappropriately--and undeniably--funny novel.

When something makes you laugh, you have to ask yourself, why? In the case of Pierre's novel, I think it's because he lets a lot of the hot air out of school shootings. He's not making fun of high-school students who kill other students and teachers. He's savaging all the hollow pieties that get preached by suddenly concerned community leaders and media jackals. Vernon Gregory Little is a teenager with the bad luck to be the best friend of a kid who kills a lot of other kids at a school in fictional Martirio, Texas. The shooting is hardly over before he's a suspect, too. And because he doesn't know how to use the media before they use him, he finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble. After all, if you don't want your face on television, there must be something wrong with you, right? In no time, or, as he puts it, "exactly three weeks since hell's tumble-dryer went to work on our lives," Vernon finds himself charged with murder as well.

Perhaps the best thing about Pierre's novel is how deftly he captures the paranoid fantasies of teenage boys. In the funniest scene in the book, Vernon finds himself on the run in Mexico, in a hotel bed with the girl of his dreams, who turns out to be the bait used by federal agents to trap the feckless fugitive. Any reader who has survived puberty will weep with laughter. Yes, "Vernon God Little" is as crude as something carved into a park bench. But as we all know, there are some mighty funny things carved into park benches.