Why do people find Vernon God Little difficult to finish? In an informal survey, the BBC found that more than a third of Britons put this book down before they've finished it. It isn't a particularly dense or boring book, like fellow Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty, and it's not particularly long, like the second least-finished book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Maybe it's because VGL is so distasteful--you see, it's about a school shooting in the small town of Martirio, Texas by an abused Mexican boy named Jesus Navarro. Jesus' best friend in the world is Vernon Gregory Little, a typical white Texan boy who feels trapped by the insanity of small-town living. When Jesus goes on a rampage and ultimately kills himself, the town and the country turn to Vernon, the killer's only friend, as a scapegoat for the murder, trying him as an accessory. But it's a delicate subject that Pierre treats with a sledgehammer.
I planned on reading this book before what happened at Virginia Tech a week ago, but those events pushed it to the front of my reading list. But VGL isn't necessarily about the shooting, which occurs before the action of the novel, but the later reaction, which is dark, hilarious, obscene, scatalogical, and terrifying. It's full of vain, fat proto-American characters who are always coming from or going to the local Bar-B-Chew Barn, overcome by their own idiocy and shallowness. Vernon's mother never really seems convinced of Vernon's innocence, though she tells him tritely while waiting for her new fridge to arrive, "Even murderers have mothers who love them." No wonder Vernon feels he has to escape to Mexico. It is tempting to scorn Pierre, who was born in Australia, lived in Mexico during his youth, and currently lives in Ireland, for satirizing Americans so ruthlessly, but his satire falls embarrassingly near the mark.
It's a punishing read psychologically, but it has a certain poignancy given the media frenzy over the identity of Cho Seung-Hui. The plot of VGL is driven by a similar media frenzy that whips up over Vernon: Every murder that occurs in the state of Texas during the time he's on the run is attributed to him. A power-hungry would-be reporter cashes in on his affair with Vernon's mother and buys the rights to televise his trial--and possibly his execution. Reading it, I couldn't help but think about the decision of NBC to televise the video manifesto made by Cho, and the outpouring of disgust at that over copycat concerns. This book was written four years ago, but it seems even more relevant now, if you can get over its general tastelessness.
Side note: I don't know why I've read so many more Booker Prize books than Pulitzer Prize books. (The Booker Prize is the analogous prize for Britain or former members of the British commonwealth, minus America.) But the Pulitzer Prize was recently awarded to The Road, so it's not like I'm some weird Anglophile or something.