Friday, February 14, 2020

God's Country by Percival Everett

Someone recommended this, or at least Percival Everett, to me around a decade ago and I picked up a copy around then. I suspect now it was around the time I first read True Grit and Blood Meridian, both great western novels in their own rights and ways. I really wish I had gotten around to reading this sooner. This is an astonishingly angry novel and yet at the same time it is often very funny. It’s a brutal revisionist western disguised as a folksy tall tale one.

Curt Marder is a white farm owner who, in the opening scene has just stood by watching from a distance as his house and property burned, his livestock and dog killed, and his wife kidnapped by white outlaws disguised as Native Americans. There is a running joke in the first couple of chapters in which both he and the people he tells about the tragedy are far more impressed/horrified by the death of the dog than by the kidnapping of the wife. This is a great example of how the humor in the book works. It points out and mocks the tendency towards pearl clutching at animal deaths in fiction while violence towards people leaves people unfazed. It’s a statement about women’s place in society of the time. It’s the first sign of how morally blind he is. And this is a text that has morality very much on its mind. The humor throughout does this, but around increasingly difficult things to laugh about. But the laughs do come as do the bitter realizations, often simultaneously.

Most tall tale style westerns have unreliable narrators, and most are commenting in some way about the myth of the west. But that unreliability here is wielded here with a perfect blend of hilarity and vicious satire as effectively as I’ve ever seen it. Curt Marder’s voice is pitch perfect. Self aggrandizing and sure of itself, while over and over again showing him in the worst possible light as he makes the worst possible decision every time. His interactions with Bubba, the black tracker he hires to help him find his wife, and the Native Americans they encounter is cringe inducing. He sees himself as superior and is consistently surprised when people rightly see he is not. He is very much a stand in for white America and the way it has treated various peoples over the years. The novel simultaneously entertains at a high level and forces consideration of America’s biggest national sins. It is a difficult task to balance those tones and Everett does it perfectly.

Canon Worthy. I will be reading this again, and reading more of Everett’s work.

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 13/75

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