Vernon God Little

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Vernon God Little is the debut novel by author DBC (Dirty But Clean) Pierre. It was the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2003, Whitbread Best First Novel Award 2003 and Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award for Comic Writing 2003.


Act I. Shit happened[edit]

  • God knows I tried my best to learn the ways of this world, even had inklings we could be glorious; but after all that's happened, the inkles ain't easy anymore. I mean—what kind of fucken life is this?
  • This ink would survive Armageddon, I swear. Cockroaches, and this fucken fingerprint ink.
  • 'Can you name the two forces underlying all life in this world?'
'Uh—wealth and poverty?'
'Not wealth and poverty.'
Good and evil?'
'No—cause and effect. And before we start I want you to name the two categories of people that inhabit our world. Can you name the two proven categories of people?'
'Causers and effecters?'
'No. Citizens—and liars.'
  • Velcro spiders seize my spine. You know gray areas are invisible on video. You don't want to be here the day shit gets figured out in black and white. I ain't saying I'm to blame, don't get me wrong. I'm calm about that, see? Under my grief glows a serenity that comes from knowing the truth always wins in the end. Why do movies end happy? Because they imitate life. You know it, I know it. But my ole lady lacks that fucken knowledge, big-time.
  • The sheriff puffs up like he just discovered fucken relativity.
  • When the rubbing of her thighs has faded, I crane my nostrils for any vague comfort; a whiff of warm toast, a spearmint breath. But all I whiff, over the sweat and the barbecue sauce, is school—the kind of pulse bullyboys give off when they spot a quiet one, a wordsmith, in a corner. The scent of lumber being cut for a fucken cross.
  • Mom's best friend is called Palmyra. Everybody calls her Pam. She's fatter than Mom, so Mom feels good around her. Mom's other friends are slimmer. They're not her best friends.
  • So the door flies open. Pam wobbles in, bolt upright like she has books on her head. It's on account of her center of gravity. 'Vernie, you eatin ribs? What did you eat today?'
'Oh Lord, we better go by the Barn.' Doesn't matter what you tell her, she's going by Bar-B-Chew Barn, believe me.
  • Next thing you know, I'm halfway out of the building in Palmyra's gravity-field. You just can't argue with this much modern woman, I tell you.
  • Outside, a jungle of clouds has grown over the sun. They kindle the whiff of damp dog that always blows around here before a storm, burping lightning without a sound. Fate clouds. They mean get the fuck out of town, go visit Nana or something, until things quiet down, until the truth seeps out. Get rid of the drugs from home, then take a road trip.
  • Deep fucken trouble keeps my euphoria at bay. Pam just molds into the car. Her soul's already knotted over the choice of side-order, you can tell. She'll end up getting coleslaw anyway, on account of Mom says it's healthy. It's vegetables, see. Me, I need something healthier today. Like the afternoon bus out of town.
  • Reporters and camera people roam the streets in packs. I keep my head down, and scan the floor for fire ants. 'Far aints,' Pam calls them. Fuck knows what other fauna climbs aboard in the century it takes her to get in and out of the fucken car. Wild Fucken Kingdom, I swear.
  • The picture of Jesus that hangs behind the sheriff's door was taken at the crime scene. From a different angle than I last saw him. It doesn't show all the other bodies around, all the warped, innocent faces. Not like the picture in my soul. Tuesday breaks through me like a fucken hemorrhage.
  • Jesus Navarro was born with six fingers on each hand, and that wasn't the most different thing about him. It's what took him though, in the very, very end. He didn't expect to die Tuesday; they found him wearing silk panties. Now girls' underwear is a major focus of the investigation, go figure. His ole man says the cops planted them on him. Like, 'Lingerie Squad! Freeze!' I don't fucken think so.
  • Jesus just drops his head. I sting for him sometimes, with his retreaded, second-hand Jordan New Jacks, and his goddam alternative lifestyle, if that's what you call this new fruity thing. His character used to fit him so clean, like a sports sock, back when we were kings of the universe, when the dirt on a sneaker mattered more than the sneaker itself. We razed the wilds outside town with his dad's gun, terrorized ole beer cans, watermelons, and trash. It's like we were men before we were boys, back before we were whatever the fuck we are now.
  • Mom scurries across our porch with a tray of listless ole joy cakes. She's in Spooked Deer mode. She looked this way the last time I saw my daddy alive, although Spooked Deer can mean anything from her frog oven-mitt being misplaced, to actual Armageddon.
  • Apart from having the thighs and ass of a cow, and minimum tits, Leona's an almost pretty blonde with a honeysuckle voice you know got its polish from rubbing on her last husband's wallet. That's the dead husband, not the first one, that got away. She never talks about the one that got away.
  • Her ten-year-ole is called Brad. Little fucker broke my PlayStation, but he won't admit it. You can't tell him fucken anything; he has an authorized disorder that works like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Me, I only have a condition.
  • Facts may seem black and white by the time they hit your TV screen, but professional teams sift through mountains of gray to get them there.
  • The truth is a corrosive thing. It's like everybody who used to cuss the dead is now lining up to say what perfect angels of God they were. What I'm learning is the world laughs through its ass every day, then just lies double-time when shit goes down. It's like we're on a Pritikin diet of fucken lies. I mean—what kind of fucken life is this?
  • Fuck her. I kick a pile of laundry, and slam my bedroom door. What I'm seriously considering, in light of everybody's behavior, is just to evacuate through the laundry door; hop a bus to Nana's, and not even tell anybody. Just call up later or something. I mean, the whole world knows Jesus caused the fucken tragedy. But because he's dead, and they can't fucken kill him for it, they have to find a skate-goat. That's people for you. Me, I'd love to explain the sequence of events last Tuesday. But I'm in a bind, see. I have family honor to think of. And I have my ma to protect, now that I'm Man of the House and all. Anyway, whoever points a finger at me, just for being a guy's friend, has some deep remorse coming. Tears of fucken regret, when the truth comes marching in. And it always comes, you know it. Watch any fucken movie.
  • Her head-scarf and shades supposedly make her invisible. The invisible twitching woman. Me, I wear the reddest T-shirt you ever saw, like a goddam six-year-old or something. I didn't want to wear it. She controls what you wear by keeping everything else damp in the laundry.
  • See Hysteriaville here? Science says there must be ten squillion brain cells in this town, but if you so much as belch before your twenty-first birthday they can only form two thoughts between them: you're fucken pregnant, or you're on drugs. Fuck it, I'm outta here. Life's simple when I'm angry. I know just what to do, and I fucken do it. Underpants my fucken ass.
  • I'll tell you a learning: knife-turners like my ole lady actually spend their waking hours connecting shit into a humongous web, just like spiders. It's true. They take every word in the fucken universe, and index it back to your knife. In the end it doesn't matter what words you say, you feel it on your blade. Like, 'Wow, see that car?' 'Well it's the same blue as that jacket you threw up on at the Christmas show, remember? What I learned is that parents succeed by managing the database of your dumbness and your slime, ready for combat. They'll cut you down in a split fucken second, make no mistake; much quicker than you'd use the artillery you dream about. And I say, in idle moments, once the shine rubs off their kid—they start doing it just for fucken kicks.
  • Fate suddenly plays its regular card. Leona's Eldorado sashays past the pumpjack, full of musty, dry wombs and deep, bitter wants. Mom withers. The fucken timing of these ladies is astounding, I have to say, like they have scandal radar or something. They foam out of the car like suds from a sitcom washing machine, except for Brad, who stays in back. He's eating a booger, you can tell. Betty Pritchard gets out and starts to strut around the lawn like a fucken chicken.
  • Then Brad Pritchard appears at my window; nose to the sky, finger pointed at his shoes.
'Air Maxes,' he states. 'New.'
He stands with his eyes shut, waiting for me to blow a fucken kiss, or break down weeping or something. Asshole.
I lift my leg to the window. 'Jordan New Jacks.'
He squints momentarily before pointing at my Nikes. 'Old,' he explains patiently. Then he points at his. 'NEW.'
I point at his, 'Price of a Barbie Camper.' Then at mine, 'Price of a medium-range corporate jet.'
'Are not.'
'Are fucken too.'
'Enjoy jail.'
  • But the pessimist in me says, 'Kid, forget vacations, what yez need is a cake wid a fuckin bomb in it.' My pessimist has a New York accent, don't ask me why. I ignore it.
  • He's dressed in white, like the Cuban Ambassador or something. A jury would convict on his fucken shoes alone, not that his shoes are my biggest problem. They're the least of my fucken problems, know why? Because if you take a bunch of flabby white folk, of the kind that organize bake-sales and such, and put them in a jury, then throw in some fast-talker from God-knows-where, chances are they won't buy a thing he says. They can tell he's slimy, but they're not allowed to officially do anything, on account of everybody has to pretend to get along these days. So they just don't buy what he says. It's a learning I made.
  • It's almost possible to be brave in here, if you add up your Nikes, your Calvin Kleins, your youth, and your actual innocence. What shunts you over the edge is the smell. Court smells like your first-grade classroom; you automatically look around for finger-paintings. I don't know if it's on purpose, like to regress you and freak you out. Truth be told, there's probably an air-freshener for courtrooms and first-grade classrooms, just to keep you in line. 'Guilt-O-Sol' or something, so in school you feel like you're already in court, and when you wind up in court you feel like you're back in school. You're primed for finger-paintings, but what you get is a lady behind one of those sawn-off typewriters. Court, boy. Fuck.
  • I learned that the authorized world doesn't recognize the knife. Your knife is invisible, that's what makes it so convenient to use. See how things work? It's what drives folk to the blackest crimes, and to sickness, I know it; the thing of everyone turning the knife just by saying hello, or something equally innocent-sounding. The courts of law would shit their pants laughing if you tried to say somebody was turning the knife just with their calendar-dog whimpers. But here's why they'd laugh: not because they couldn't see the knife, but because they knew nobody else would buy it. You could stand before twelve good people, all with some kind of psycho-knife stuck in them that loved-ones could twist on a whim, and they wouldn't admit it. They'd forget how things really are, and slip into TV-movie mode where everything has to be obvious. I guarantee it.
  • They turn to stare daggers at me. The typist's daggers come wrapped in Kleenex, I guess so they don't get shit on them. I just stare at my Nikes. Things have gone beyond a fucken joke. You just know the justice system ain't set up for folk like me. It's set up for more obvious folk, like you see in movies. Nah, if the facts don't arrive today, if everybody doesn't apologize and send me home, I'll jump bail and run over the fucken border. Against All Odds. I'll vanish into the cool of tonight, see if I fucken don't, hum cross-country with the moths, with my innocent-headed learnings and my ole panty dreams.
  • A bright-eyed lady with short gray hair and bifocal glasses glides behind the tallest desk. Judge Helen E Gurie says the sign. Her swivel chair rattles politely when she sits. The Chair of God.
  • A high-voltage tremor cracks through me, of hope, excitement, and ass-naked fear. You think I'm going to stick around for the so-called justice system to get its shit together? Am I fuck. Buses leave Martirio every two hours for Austin or San Antonio. The automatic teller machine with fifty-two dollars in it, from Nana's lawnmowing fund, is a block from the Greyhound station. Which is five blocks from here.
  • 'I definitely saw changes in the boy,' says George Porkorney. You can see her cigarettes hidden behind the fruit-salad plant on the breakfast bar at home. 'His shoes got more aggressive, he insisted on one of those skinhead haircuts …'
'I know,' says Betty in back.
Cut to Leona Dunt. Her handbag needs to be a yard taller for how big the word Gucci is written on it. 'Wow, but he seemed like such a regular kid.'
  • Muzak plays near the cells tonight. It fucken lays me out and buries me alongside my friends. It goes: 'I beg your par-den, I never promised you a rose gar-den.' Hot weather always brings these fucked ole tunes, always in the background, in fucken mono. Fate. Like, notice how whenever something happens in your life, like you fall in love or something, a tune gets attached. Fate tunes. Watch out for that shit.
  • In the end, I pass the time practicing faces for the psychiatrist. I don't know if it's better to act crazy, or regular, or what. If the shrinks on TV are anything to go by, it'll be fucken hard to find out, because they just repeat every damn thing you say. If you say, 'I'm devastated,' they go, "I hear you saying you're devastated." How do you deal with that? All I know is what I learned last week, that a healthy life should feel spongy, like a burrito. This Tuesday night, the first-week anniversary of the shootings, my life feels like a fucken corn chip.
  • Her sniffling feels like she physically has her tongue in my ear, like an anteater or something. Makes me want to puke and bawl at the same time, go fucken figure. Here's why she's going for gold, let me tell you: it's because now I'm not only in jail, but I might be fucken crazy as well. What a bonanza for her if I'm fucken crazy as well. Then her problem would be that she already spent her best whimpery moves; like, she'd have to shred a tit or something, just to keep up with the Unfolding Tragedy of Her Fucken Life. Out of kindness, I absorb the maximum number of sniffles before speaking.

Act II. How I spent my summer vacation[edit]

  • 'You had a bowel movement, outside school? At the time of the tragedy?'
'Sometimes I can be kind of unpredictable.'
Silence fills the forty years Fate gives me to recognize the import of things. This would never happen to Van Damme. Heroes never shit. They only fuck and kill.
  • A thought comes to me; it is that a breeze on the butt, in the presence of supermarket lighting, should only be felt by the dead. I'm a naked fucken animal. But even naked animals need bail. Especially naked animals need it.
  • Mexico. Another coupon tacked onto the pile I'll redeem when I get some power in my fucken life. Look around this life and all you see is folks' coupons tacked everywhere, what they'll do if, what they'll do when. Warm anticipation for shit that ain't even going to happen.
  • I sense a learning: that much dumber people than you end up in charge. Look at the way things are. I'm no fucken genius or anything, but these spazzos are in charge of my every twitch. What I'm starting to think is maybe only the dumb are safe in this world, the ones who roam with the herd, without thinking about every little thing. But see me? I have to think about every little fucken thing.
  • Instead of true joy, I feel waves; the kind that make you look forward to the smell of laundry on a rainy Saturday, the type of drippy hormones that trick you into saying I Love You. Security they fucken call it. Watch out for that shit. Those waves erode your goddam bravery. I even get a wave of gratitude for the judge—go fucken figure. I mean, Judge Gurie's been good to me, but—expand on the bowel thing?—I don't fucken think so.
  • My face caves in. This is how I'm being grown up, this is my fucken struggle for learnings and glory. A gumbo of lies, cellulite, and fucken 'Wuv'.
  • "We could turn your situation around three hundred and sixty degrees..."
"Learn some fucken math."
  • Eyes move to the screen like sinners to fucken church. 'A millionaire before he was ten,' says the reporter, 'Ricky is now well on the road to his second hundred million dollars.' The way he says 'doll-larrs' you'd think he'd dipped his fucken tongue in molasses, or something. Pussy or something. Ricky just sits there like a spare prick, in front of the Lamborghini he can't even drive. When they ask him if he feels great, he just shrugs and says, 'Doesn't everybody?'
  • I don't have an answer. I just blow some air through my cheeks and shuffle away, to fucken Mexico, via my room.
  • I carefully pull down the window behind me, then run under the biggest willow, to the back fence. Who lives on the other side is a wealthy couple; at least their house is painted wealthy. It means they spend less time spying through their screen, not like Mrs Porter. Wealth makes you less nosey, in case you didn't know.
  • It bums me to think how few things Taylor has actually said to my face; like, maybe twenty-nine words, in my whole fucken life. Eighteen of those were in the same sentence. A TV scientist wouldn't give great odds of a college girl running away in the heat of the moment with a fifteen-year-old slimeball like me, not after a relationship spanning twenty-nine words. But that's fucken TV scientists for you. Next thing they'll be telling you not to eat meat.
  • I just want to fucken die, go back to jail, to the warmth of Barry and his crew of madcap funsters. Last night was a long night at home, real fucken long. To cap it off, Kurt started barking again. I swear the barking circuit that orbits town every night starts and ends with fucken Kurt. For such a nerdy dog, I don't see how he got to be president of the barking circuit. It ain't like he's a fucken rat-wheeler or anything.
  • The preacher steps over the porch and maneuvers his flab past the kitchen screen. 'This glorious Saturday smells of joy cakes,' he booms. I swear the Lord giveth and just keeps fucken givething to Pastor Gibbons.
  • Lally follows us onto the porch. As soon as we're out of Mom's sight, he grabs my ear and twists it hard. 'This is the way forward, little man—don't blow it.'
Son of a stadium full of bitches. I rub my ear on the way to the New Life Center; the pastor listens to the radio as he drives, nose up to the windscreen. He doesn't talk to me at all. We pass Leona Dunt's house, with the fountain in front. Her trash is out four days early again. That's to help you take stock of all the rope-handled boutique bags, and razor-edged boxes barfing tissue and ribbon. You could sell her a fucken turd if it was giftwrapped, I swear.
  • The Lozano boys are out hawking T-shirts on the corner of Liberty Drive. One design has 'I survived Martirio' splattered across it in red. Another has holes ripped through it, and says: 'I went to Martirio and all I got was this lousy exit wound.' Preacher Gibbons tuts, and shakes his head.
'Twenty dollars,' he says. 'Twenty dollars for a simple cotton T-shirt.'
  • 'Vernon, are you all right?' That's my ole mom. I swell with involuntary warmth.
'I guess so,' I say. That's what you say around here if you mean 'No'.
She fidgets with my collar. 'Well, if you're sure—I only want you to be happy.' That's what you say around here if you mean 'Tough shit'.
  • 'And here's the winning ticket,' says Gibbons. 'Green forty-seven!' A sluggish frenzy breaks through the tent. The kid stops, and drags a mangled pink ticket from his pocket. He squints at it, like it might turn fucken green.
  • I stand insulated from my world by the buzzing tequila-ozone of what I just did. Lies scatter around me like ants.
  • Nah, my slime's so thick, it ain't worth coming clean at all. Take good note; Fate actually makes it harder to admit slime, the farther in you get. What kind of system is that? If I was president of the Slime Committee, I'd make it easier to come clean about shit. If coming clean is what you're supposed to do, then it should be made more fucken accessible, I say. I guess the shiver that really comes over me is that I just handed everybody the final nail for my cross. All they needed, on top of everything, was a credible lie. You can just see my ole lady on TV when they break the news, don't tell me you can't. 'Well but I even stayed up to pack his sandwiches...'
  • She gets that fabulous edge that girls get to their voices, the edge that spells oncoming Tantrum From the Bowels of Hell, that says, 'I'll scratch the heavens down around you and suck the fucken air from your lungs and spit you to fucken hell and you know it.'
  • A learning grows in me like a tumor. It's about the way different needy people find the quickest route to get some attention in their miserable fucken lives. The fucken oozing nakedness, the despair of being such a vulnerable egg-sac of a critter, like, a so-called human being, just sickens me sometimes, especially right now. The Human Condition, Mom calls it. Watch out for that fucker.

Act III. Against All Odds[edit]

  • A learning: deep shit sweetens your plans like crazy.
  • Fate always pays attention to what you think, then slams it up your fucken ass.
  • There's the learning, O Partner: that you're cursed when you realize true things, because then you can't act with the full confidence of dumbness anymore.
  • I hear Taylor's song through the 'Tss, tss, tss' of a guy's earphones, a couple of rows up. 'Better Man' is the tune, by Pearl Jam. I don't even know the words to the song, but you can bet I'll spend the next eighty years in hell making every line fit my situation. Even if it ends up being about fucken groundhogs in space or something.
  • The official ushers me to a desk, and sits behind it, all straight-backed, like he's the president of South America or something, like the borderline is the crack of his fucken ass.
  • An American family sweeps past me into the elevator, dressed like Tommy Hilfiger on a golfing convention; it's a mama with a tense ole man, and the traditional two kids—a good one and a bad one. Type of folk who get lighthearted over dinner-music, and start talking about their feelings, to show how liberated they are. Your fucken cutlery drawer on parade.
  • You can only really be yourself when you have nothing left to lose, see? That's a learning I made. It may sound dumb, but it ain't easy when your dreams roll up. Take note, you can feel jerksville lurking in back. And as we know, just by thinking it, you suffer it worse. The learning: potential assholeness when a dream comes true is relative to the amount of time you spent working up the dream. . It means I could even fucken puke.

Act IV. How my summer vacation spent me[edit]

  • Alright I stand accused of just about every murder in Texas between the time I left home and when they hauled my ass back. With my face all over the media, folks started seeing me everywhere, I guess. Recall, they call it. Watch out for that sucker. And I'm still accused of the tragedy. Everybody just forgot about Jesus. Everybody except me.
  • She said Mom closed up the house one day, turned the oven on full, and sat by its open door. Apparently, it's still a Cry For Help, even though our oven's electric.
  • School never teaches you about this mangled human slime, it slays me. You spend all your time learning the capital of Surinam while these retards carve their initials in your back.

Act V. Me ves y sufres[edit]

  • 'And we're not just talking executions here—were talking the ultimate reality TV, where the public can monitor, via cable or internet, prisoners' whole lives on death row. They can live amongst them, so to speak, and make up their own minds about a convict's worthiness for punishment. Then each week, viewers across the globe can cast a vote to decide which prisoner is executed next. It's humanity in action—the next logical step toward true democracy.'
  • 'Blind, dumb shit,' he spits, his breath like hot sandpaper in my ear. 'Where's this God you talk about? You think a caring intelligence would wipe out babies from hunger, watch decent folk scream and burn and bleed every second of the day and night? That ain't no God. Just fuckin people. You stuck with the rest of us in this snake-pit of human wants, wants frustrated and calcified into needs, achin and raw.'
The outburst takes me aback. 'Everybody needs something,' I mutter.
'Then don't come cryin to me becausen you got in the way of another man's needs.'
'But, Lasalle …'
'Why you think the world chewin its own legs off? Becausen the goodies are right there, but we can't fuckin get 'em. Why can't we get 'em? Becausen the market for promises need us not to. That ain't the work of no God. That's human work, animals who dreamed up an outside God to take the heat.' Lasalle pokes a trembling lip at my face. 'Wise the fuck up. Intermingling needs make this world go round. Serve that intermingling, and you needs can get fulfilled. Ever hear say, "Give the people what they want?"'
'Sure, but—where's that leave God?'
'Boy you really missed the boat. I'll make it simple, so's even fuckin you can understand. Papa God growed us up till we could wear long pants; then he licensed his name to dollar bills, left some car keys on the table, and got the fuck outta town.' Water rushes to his eye-holes. 'Don't be lookin up at no sky for help. Look down here, at us twisted dreamers.' He takes hold of my shoulders, spins me around, and punches me towards the mirror on the wall. 'You're the God. Take responsibility. Exercise your power.'
  • One learning, though: my big flaw is fear. In a world where you're supposed to be a psycho, I just didn't yell loud enough to get ahead. I was too darn embarrassed to play God.
  • As I digest things, the regular Sunday quiet falls over the Row. You hear some papers rustle. Then a con calls out, softly.
'Burnem—you okay, my man?'
I turn over the last sheet of paper on my pile. Under it lays an order for my execution, effective six o'clock tonight. I look at it like it was a napkin or something. Then I fall down on my knees, bawl like a storm cloud, and pray to God.
  • I take off my shirt. My skin is mostly healed now, from my art project. Tattooed in big blue letters across my chest are the words 'Me ves y sufres'—'See me and suffer.'
  • A terminal learning comes to me: that for all the sirens, game-show buzzers, and drum-rolls of life, it is the nature of men to die quietly. I mean, what kind of life was that? – a bunch of movies, and people talking about movies, and shows about people talking about movies. Still, I guess I asked for it. By being negative, destructive. I remember once calling my daddy to collect me from a place, but was sad when he came because I'd since grown to love the place. Death takes me like that.
  • I watch Lally climb out of the car. Bless the motherfucker to hell. Bless his bones smashed and stuffed through the ligaments of his puking fucked eyes, bless his mouth to suck me off, take my bile so it kills him dead to a place where he stays conscious and fucken broken and cold, shivering fucken worms and slime from organs that pop and fucken waste as I laugh.
  • Lally's face is a mask I fucken adore, suspended in time forever as slugs whistle and pierce the evening sky. He dances mid-air as chunks of his body pelt down like rain, before the bulk of him thuds twitching to the ground.

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