The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"George sees Paul about to pull open the passenger door.
Paul flips him off.
-- [...] I called it on the way over here.
-- You can't call shotgun until you see the car."
The bickering over the shotgun rule typifies the adolescent world depicted in Charlie Huston's novel. I omitted the swear words: they would not belong in the review even if I do not mind them in the novel. The adolescent themes and tone are not what is wrong with the book. The unbearably extended climactic scenes of The Shotgun Rule (2007) made me so angry that I was about to hurl the book against the wall and watch how the binding disintegrates and the pages of moronic text turn into paper rags suitable for cleaning the floor. The inane prose reminded me of the vile word vomit of Jerzy Kosinski's Steps or Chuck Palahniuk's The Fight Club. Yet I should not waste time for anger in my old age: having finished reading the novel I will admit that despite the extended violence sequence Mr. Huston's book is not a piece of repulsive trash like the two "master works" mentioned above. I loved the author's
Six Bad Things
(a near-masterpiece) and
(a very good book), so I am not biased against Mr. Huston. It is just that Shotgun - well intentioned as it may be - does not work.
Time is about 1984. Place: somewhere in the vicinity of Livermore or Pleasanton, east of the Bay Area. George, Andy (George's younger brother), Paul, and Hector are teenagers from working class families: they are trying to find their place in the world and going totally wrong about it. They drink a lot, use drugs, occasionally even run dope and burglarize houses. They just do not know any better. George and Andy's parents try hard to properly raise the kids, but the father's sister herself pushes pills she steals from the hospital where she works. Paul's mother is dead and his father is a secret heavy drinker. Hector comes from the first Latino family on the "white" block - not an easy situation. And even if the parents were absolute stars, the boys are at the age when all adults become totally stupid and worthless. The plot begins with the kids attempting a robbery. It does not end well: they get mixed up with a variety of criminals, which leads to the utterly moronic climactic scene.
Sam Peckinpah portrayed unbridled violence in his movie Wild Bunch, where the extremely violent scenes have a surreal, almost ballet-like quality. Tarantino's movie Pulp Fiction is ostensibly very brutal yet deep down there it is a comedy. Mr. Huston - despite having shown that he can write great prose - utterly fails here in trying to convey the horror of violence. About 20 pages of senseless brutality - maiming, torturing and shooting - produce an opposite effect to the desired one: the reader gets tired and bored rather than terrified. In fact, I was unable to stop giggling about the monotony of violence and it reminded me of Mr. Palahniuk repeating the same phrase one hundred times in hope that repetition is what serious literature is about. One paragraph, one page depiction of brutal acts would have a stronger effect. Also, the coolest than cool shtick with Geezer (one of the bad guys) needing help with remembering long words, such as "relevant," "summation," or "composure" is unfunny and annoying.
One more thought. I do not quite buy Mr. Huston's portrayal of what drives Andy, "the spaz". The little brother is not like other boys: he is good at math and able to learn the high-school material on his own in a record-short time, which obviously makes him a total freak. While the thread of the older boys taking care of Andy in their own way is touching, I do not believe for a moment that it was pride and courage that helped Andy survive. In real life it would be cunning and mimicry skills.
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