Friday, January 21, 2011

Lean on Pete (2010) Willy Vlautin

Vlautin's third novel, Lean on Pete is what Carver might have been without the aide of alcohol, cigarettes, spousal abuse, and racism. The novel follows the tragic life of Charlie, a kid who sees his father killed by a girlfriend's jealous boyfriend. Orphaned and broke, this kid takes a job working for a scum-of-the-Earth type, named Del, who races at Portland Meadows. That's where the story takes off.

Vlautin has a voice that is simple, and catchy, and perhaps because it's all from the point of view of fifteen year old Charlie, the language flows through the events in a way a child could understand, but in layers only an adult can fully appreciate. The story is both beautiful and sometimes heart-breaking, and the people Charlie runs into are as real, and as unreal as everything else in the book. None of the characters can be discarded, discounted, or taken too lightly. This is by far the best book I read from 2010.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revisionist History and Mark Twain

Even as a writer and a soon-to-be English teacher, I debated whether I should join in this whole Huck Finn/New South disaster. Not because I don't care, or some stroke of apathy having silenced the miniature Bradbury, which does most assuredly advise me of such things, not unlike Gazoo. The debate centered around whether or not my writing blog (or any other site this might end up) is the proper vehicle for my stance on something of a political nature.

Turns out, whether I like it or not, I have some duty to my forefathers, and to the literary cannon, and should those things come under attack, it is up to the “new” generation of people who don't have their heads planted firmly and squarely into their rectal cavities, to defend them.

First, I think we should have ourselves a little vocabulary lesson, not so much on the words “nigger” or “slave”, even though those will be coming up. Let's start with another word: Bigot. This is a word that gets thrown around a lot in this day and age, and people seem to have forgotten what it actually means.

It does not mean one is racist, but it can be a synonym for that. What it really means is: one who is, or appears to be closed minded.

This, unlike the 'accepted' definition of my peers can be applied to anyone, and not to merely ignorant people with sun-scorched necks. Now, if you need someone like me to explain to you how these words, which are seen as the same and interchangeable, really aren't at all, I would suggest commenting on this publicly wherever you find it, and one of the nice Proctologists in the area will help you find your cranium. I would do it myself, for everyone, but you see I am a busy guy, and I do need breaks every here and there.

The word “nigger” in Huck Finn, and throughout Twain's other works, as well as other works from the time, serves to capture the vernacular of a people, of a place; of a time, of a people. To take that away from those works because our society thinks that is best is like taking dead bodies off the beach in Normandy, like mandating all future wars be fought with paintball guns, and replacing the orphans in Dickens with kids from Campbell's soup cans.

Why should the American people be alright with revisionist history in our history, when we can see from contemporary examples we aren't as cool with it in other places? We shame Holocaust deniers, and people who think Elvis didn't die at home on the can.

If we are so enlightened in this generation, why then do we seem all too willing to look back at history, safe behind our rose-colored-John-Lennon-glasses, and point fingers? Every day somewhere there is a history class calling Puritan men out for what they believe to be their control of their family. Somewhere, I promise you, some Women's Studies major is out there bleeding from the heart for the plight of Puritan women.

I subject to you (because there are source documents to prove it) that neither is the case. That gender roles in those days were what they were, sure, but there was a rhyme and reason. Not only that, but most of these men adored their wives, and their wives sure seemed to think the sun shined out of those mens' asses.

I subject to you that it is the kind of thinking which has been touched upon in these words, and not the language of Twain that is bigoted, and in dire need of alterations. What happens if we live by this line of thinking? Are all the whipping scenes in Roots going to be replaced with tickling? When the bondage of the slaves, tickled or not offends someone, will we cut that all together? Will we, again, remove names like James Baldwin and Langston Hughes from the pages of our anthologies? Are we so afraid to talk to, or fuck up our children that we will forsake our history?

Remember, bigot means closed minded. Now, you know the truth, and to quote a wise man: The truth is just what you make of it. It begins and ends with you.