Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks

Like Huckleberry Finn, a 14 year old boy is set adrift without adult supervision

Chappie, a pot smoking little thief from upstate New York, is kicked out of his house by his exasperated mother and creepy stepdad. Accompanied by his friend, the older craftier Russ, Chappie encounters bone-headed yet noble bikers, hides out for the winter in a posh vacation home, lives serenely in a schoolbus with a Rastaman and a little girl, and finally takes off for Jamaica where he fortuitously runs into his drug addled menacing long lost father.

The book, however, went on far too long. The point of this novel is Chappie’s voice, which is entertaining and lively, but voice alone, not matter how entertaining and lively, cannot carry 400 pages. The structure, characters, plot and vernacular echoed Huckleberry Finn but Huckleberry Finn was a novel backed by a rage, a rage against American obtuseness and hypocrisy and cruelty, a rage against human nature. Huck is the innocent witness. Chappie is also a witness, but there is no rage here, only a genial bemusement at human nature and its kooky foibles. Chappie only wants to smoke some weed and get to a place where people aren’t nagging him. I got tired of Chappie long before the end.

The story felt like it was wrapping up even though I could tell there was a fifth of the book left. Out of the blue (pretty much) Chappie decided to accompany the Rastaman to Jamaica and suddenly we had a completely new plot, one about Chappie’s father, who had been completely absent from the book so far. I lost interest after that.

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