Updated on May 4, 2017
18. ‘Vernon God Little’ by DBC Pierre
Vernon God Little is my housemate’s favourite book and he’s been waiting for someone else to read it for forever, plus it’s been on my shelves for who knows how many years, so at last I obliged! This book, according to its subtitle, is ‘A 21st Century Comedy in the Presence of Death’, and in it DBC Pierre proves that he has an absolutely wicked sense of humour.
Vernon Little, our narrator-protagonist, is in trouble. His friend Jesus has just shot up their school and killed the classmates who bullied him, and now everybody suspects Vernon of being an accomplice. Unfortunately for Vernon, his alibi needs to stay secret, and nobody takes him seriously because he’s fifteen and a bit weird. Mind you, so is the rest of his Texas town, in which everybody has their own agendas and nobody believes anything unless they want to believe it. In the face of a self-martyring mother, an exploitative out-of-town journalist and a whole host of other bizarre neighbours and friends, Vernon must prove his innocence and deal with his teenage urges.
It is Pierre’s writing style that really stands out in this book. He does an incredible job of capturing the world through a teenager’s eyes, including words and phrases that Vernon has clearly misheard and uses wrongly; he talks about shifting the ‘powerdime’, and people making a ‘skate-goat’ of him. Pierre also has an incredible ability to capture the disgusting and the deviant in just a few cutting words. One woman has a really repulsive car which is always full of leftover food, and it is described beautifully as ‘dripping ants onto the pavement’. The one that really sticks with me, however, is this description of a scruffy local girl:
“…you couldn’t name the flavors of ice-cream it looked like she strained through her pants some days.”
Aside from the compelling language (and the pinpoint characterisation it achieves), the plot is also really gripping. Things escalate gradually and Vernon often finds himself with his hands tied; you find yourself wishing he could explain himself better, but instead he gets deeper and deeper into trouble, purely through his own haplessness. And that fits beautifully with his own unwavering belief that the truth will out and everybody will discover his innocence; as the evidence piles up, you wonder if this can ever happen.
I was thoroughly gripped by the ending, in which you discover that Pierre has carefully set up his conclusion from the start, if you’re only astute enough to spot it. For a book that deals with such a serious subject in a humorous manner right from the first page, when it gets really serious towards the end, it still manages to move you and keep you laughing. Vernon God Little is unlike anything I’ve read before; it’s a coming-of-age comedy with a vicious bite.
“What I’m learning is the world laughs through its ass every day, then just lies double-time when shit goes down.”
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read it? You can buy Vernon God Little here.