Sometimes when I read an author’s first novel, I find myself noticing the author’s effort–sometimes a first novel feels labored, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Barely a quarter of the way through The End of Vandalism, though, I realized that I trusted this author. I wasn’t distracted by the author’s attempt to craft the novel, I was just reading and enjoying it. This is not an ordinary first novel.
I enjoyed the map at the front and the list of characters at the back, and actually found myself referring to them frequently for at least the first half of the book.
Often when I read a book that reviewers describe as “funny,” I see what they’re talking about, but I’m not actually all that amused. Reading this book, though, I really did spontaneously laugh out loud at certain passages. I keep going back to the description of Marie Person (“woman in pickup”), on pages 84-85 of my copy.
The driver of the truck was a sunburned, overweight woman named Marie Person. She was in her sixties and drove leaning forward, forearms curved to the wheel, shoulders gently rolling in a red-and-white-checked shirt. Marie was one of those eccentrics who travel the lonely highways of monotonous states and almost seem to have been hired by the tourism department to enliven the traveler’s experience. These people have certain things in common. Often they hold a patent, or have applied for one but are being blocked by lawyers, or have some other reason to correspond frequently with Washington, D.C. Sometimes the stamped and addressed letters ride beside them, fanned out on the car seat, which is usually a bench and not a bucket. They travel at midday or late at night. They cross desolate stretches for vague and shifting reasons that often have to do with animals. They need a vaccine for Skip the pony or special food for Rufus the cat to get his urine flowing again. They are going to look at a calf in Elko named Dream Weaver or Son of Helen’s Song. They know everyone in the low-roofed diners along the way, but no one seems to know them. This they account for by giving the details of some unpopular stand they have taken that made everyone furious but was after all the right thing to do. Their surnames are not traceable to other surnames you have heard.
Much of the book is made up of funny little everyday happenings and amusing situations, but then it takes a more somber turn. This is when Drury really impresses me, sure-handedly taking the characters he’s been showing in a folksy and sometimes comical light and putting them through a crisis.
Four out of five stars. Recommended.