Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Review: "Against the Country" by Ben Metcalf
Ben Metcalf’s debut novel Against the Country can be described in many words. Enjoyable is one. It is quite fun to see a writer as talented as Metcalf use his skills in such a unique and profane way, slinging barbs of wisdom and poison at a fictional town that the book’s unnamed narrator has not only come to loathe but has become some otherworldly prison that not even distance and time can free him from. Another word that came to mind was maddening. This is a book with little structure, being less a linear narrative and more of a book on down home and gutter philosophy; it won’t be to everyone’s taste, if not for its density than certainly for its vulgarity, which is dished out in the book’s short digestible chapters, some no more than half a page long, and some of which are better than others. I’m struggling to figure out an entry point for such a confounding novel, but I will try my best. The narrator grew up in a county in Virginia called Goochland, whose funny name hides the darkness that the narrator sees all around him. His sister is a basket case as well as his mom, his brother once held up his school bus with a shot gun. His dad, what I take at least to be a literary scholar, is obsessed with J. D. Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and the suicide of its main character. But the details aren’t important, really, and this is an excuse for our hate-filled guide to corner the reader with stories of chickens, the brutal nature of his town trees, and his time in school, including one scene in his band class where he made his teacher vomit (I won’t say what it is here.) I guarantee this book will lose you in some parts that are a little too esoteric, but its pitch black sense of humor makes it really worthwhile if you want something different.