As lazy, as trite, as smugly self-satisfied a satire as it is possible to imagine, Vernon God Little is, in my opinion, a painfully bad book. The plot is boring, the characters are cartoonish, the imagery is infantile, the prose is abysmal, and the main theme, the media’s voyeuristic obsession with violence and tragedy as entertainment, is so hackneyed as to be almost meaningless. A middle-class fantasy of white-trash clichés, this is easily one of the worst books I have ever read. And I’ve read Rule of the Bone.
I usually don't like to summarise the plot in my reviews, but I have to here, because its banality is a key problem. A teenager, unable to convince the police in his small Texas town that he wasn’t involved in a school massacre, flees to Mexico where he is betrayed before being whisked back home for trial, conviction and sentencing. That’s it! Nothing else really happens, so the plot isn’t exactly complex or interesting in and of itself. The writing can be summed up in a single word: ass. The word “ass” appears, in some form, on almost every page. To call the book scatological is to understate its author’s obsession with asses and shit, which is handy enough, because the book itself is utter shit. Saying "ass" every page is not daring, it’s not "using the vernacular," it’s just repetitive and contrived, like the rest of the prose.
As for the characters, rarely have I read a book where the author has such clear contempt for his or her own characters. Never have I encountered such a collection of gross stereotypes, lazily deployed to such cynical effect. Practically everyone, bar Vernon, is greedy, treacherous, and shallow. There isn’t a single adult Texan who isn’t morbidly obese and dripping with barbeque sauce. Similarly, there isn’t a single adult Mexican who doesn’t have greasy hair and gold teeth. There’s even a “wise old Black convict,” just to complete the pantheon of American stereotypes. And this is my main problem with the book: it is not, at all, about challenging our preconceptions, presenting us with difficult themes or ambiguous characters, or saying something new about the problems of contemporary society. It is only about making bland, conventional points about “the media” and “consumerism” while confirming easy stereotypes and playing to the lowest common denominators. As such, it’s a masterpiece of pandering. An odious book, I’m well rid of it.