Friday, 31 October 2008

God Clobbers Us All - Poe Ballantine

Imagine you are sitting in the pub on a Sunday afternoon enjoying a quiet drink when an old stoner comes in and begins to tell stories. People crowd around, for he is a good storyteller with a smooth and wistful style, powerful imagery, and his tales are full of youthful verve and potential, somehow universally familiar. You laugh along, enjoying the journey, you buy him a drink, and before you know it, the sky is black and you are pretty drunk.

However, even while you are laughing along, you are aware that the stories are just the tired ramblings of an old man who remembers his youth through rose-tinted spectacles and longs for another chance to be wild. The events are exaggerated, over indulgent; like a bad caricature of a life that only existed in his mind. You know that when you wake up in the morning you wont even remember what the story was about, or who the characters were.

This is God Clobbers Us All: a short, light, inoffensive, and humorous journey through a few months in the eighteen-year-old life of Edgar somebody or other, as he works a menial job in a convalescent home, falls in love, takes drugs, and tries to locate his friend Bev, who went missing after trying acid for the first time. His is the sort of overblown youth we are all meant to have had. And thoroughly bland because of it. Set in 1970’s California, it is a book which tries to be a warm and funny coming-of-age novel, but fails. Edgar's life is more like that of a thirty year-old man having a quarter life crisis than it is an eighteen year old taking his first steps in the world. He has an affair with a married woman, escapes her army husband’s murderous plot for revenge by drugging him and taking him out on the night of his life. His thought processes are nothing like those of a teenager.

There is some substance in this book, but is generally hidden under mounds of drug induced, pointless observation by two-dimensional characters. Occasionally it seems that the disappearance of Bev and the fragility of life and death in the nursing home might give Ballantine something interesting to say, but it rarely does. And all the while, Ed is being obnoxious. Along with his fat, alcoholic, lesbian friend Pat, he struggles with his culpability in Bev’s disappearance, but neither of them feel nearly guilty enough for the arrogant and assuming way they treated her like some lab rat to be toyed with for their own amusement. They are insensitive, smart-arse, arrogant, swines. I hated them. And the other characters are equally as annoying. Not only do you have the violent army husband who turns out to be gay, but the unattended mother trying to reconnect with her son, the larger than life lesbian drinking buddy who has a crush on him, the teenager pretending not to have a care in the world.

God Clobbers Us All is a readable and well written short novel which will have you laughing along with the characters and their escapades. If you find yourself sitting alone in a bar on a Sunday afternoon and there happens to be a bookshop next door with this book for cheap, then why not buy it, sit back, and enjoy the ride. Order another pint at the bar and imagine yourself being told a story by a travelling storyteller. But don't bother taking the book with you as you stumble home that night, for when the haze has cleared in the morning, it seems unlikely that you will ever think about it again.

4 out of 10

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