Friday, April 5, 2019

Meh: "The End of Vandalism" by Tom Drury

Meh: The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury, 1994. 9780395621516.

I don't recall how I was reading about Drury but this 1994 novel had a great reception when published. Drury has not published many novels and this is the second of his I have read. His book Pacific came out a couple years ago and "revisits Grouse County" where this is set. Grouse County is somewhere in WI, or MN, or IA. At one point a marching band plays something like On Wisconsin! so I suppose this is west or southwest Wisconsin.

I was about halfway through the book and it was kinda "meh". Only then did I realize - reading a online comment - that this is supposed to be comedic. The problem with this is that the humor is based on varieties of small town life and interactions. Well... to me that is normal life. There were a couple laugh out loud moments but I don't recall them.

Anyhoo. The focus is on Sheriff Dan and Louise. [Spoilers ahead] The novel starts with Dan arresting Louise's drunken husband, Tiny. Tiny and Louise end up divorcing. Dan marries Louise. They have some trouble. Louise gets pregnant and loses the daughter only days from delivery. Louise leaves and stays with relatives a few months. Dan and Louise reunite.

I do not categorize this as a romance story. I suppose it's more of a "modern rural life" type thing. Except it is set in 1992 or so and, therefore, out of date in several ways. There are more county maintained gravel roads. Smaller towns are still slowly dying off. Job prospects are limited. Some high school kids fall in love and some high school kids want to immediately hit the highway and not look back.

There are not as many of the interpersonal intricacies and diverse family trees of most small town life. Louise and Tiny have some of that. With Louise divorcing, remarrying, and telling the ex-husband to buzz off. Tiny wanting to hang out with a former sister-in-law in Colorado. Over time so many families merge and diverge that keeping track of people is very difficult for newcomers. It's the standard small town rule that you need to be careful what you say. You can inadvertently insult someone's cousin, aunt, nephew, etc. Complain about a road repair decision made 20 years ago and you'll find you're talking to the former City Council President who argued in it's favor. Praise one person and find out that you did so to the angry former spouse.

I cannot think of any comparable writing except maybe Garrison Keillor's stories. Speaking of which, I read The Book of Guys in 2000 or so and thought it was great. I read it again a few years later and it sucked. I never much cared for Keillor anyway.

1. One difference to my county is that fictional Grouse County is smaller. Jefferson County is 83,000. Most weeks I never leave the city limits. I just looked at the distance calculator on Daft Logic and see I stay within a 2 mile diameter circle.
2. The stillbirth was a jarring and well written section. A bit of a shocker and somewhat sad.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

This sat on my shelf for ten years. I finally donated it to a library sale without ever reading it. I do that fairly often.