Don't mock Texans if you know nothing about them. DBC Pierre's Booker winner is shallow and safeby Michael Lind / December 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Book: Vernon God Little Author: DBC Pierre Price: (Faber, £10.99)
If ever a country deserved to be satirised, it is the contemporary United States. The largest state in the union has just elected as governor an Austrian bodybuilder and movie star. The newly appointed deputy under-secretary of defence for intelligence, William G Boykin, has shown church audiences photos of what he claims are “demonic presences” over Muslim cities. The president of the country, the talentless son of a former president, has killed perhaps as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians in a war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which probably never existed. How can a satirist compete?
One satirist who cannot is DBC Pierre, author of Vernon God Little, the comic novel that has just won the Man Booker prize. Set in America, Pierre’s book is not just bad; it is so awful that its victory suggests there is something deeply wrong with British literary culture. To an American reader the book provokes neither amusement nor outrage, but puzzlement: are the British literati so ignorant of the US that they can think this is a competent parody?
The book jacket says that DBC Pierre has “divided most of the first 23 years of his life between Texas and Mexico City.” Well, I spent the first 21 years of my life in west-central Texas and continue to spend a lot of time there, and I can attest that the place generates enough material to employ dozens of full-time lampooners. I can also attest that Pierre knows nothing about his subject. If it is true that he spent time in Texas (according to the press, he has been a serial con artist), he must have spent it indoors watching television.
To begin with, Pierre has no idea how people in Texas talk. “To be fair, the rumours about ole Mr Deutschmann didn’t say he’d actually dicked any schoolgirls… Real slime though, don’t get me wrong.” Maybe this is slang in Australia (Pierre’s former home) or Ireland (his present home), but this is not how a teenage redneck in Texas sounds, even in parody.
Nor does he know what things are called in the part of America he writes about. “You should’ve seen Vaine at the hayride, she put away more corn than a truckload of empty Meskins.” I’ve never heard the name “Vaine” as a female name;…