"MUDVILLE" & VIOLENCE IN AMERICA
MUDVILLE, the recent novel by Kevin Postupack (Deep Kiss Press), is a book steeped in violence, and more specifically, violence in America, because Americans love violence. They love guns, big pickups, fast food, fist fights, and Jesus (although I’m not sure how Jesus fits into that group). Postupack explained that he wanted everything about the book to be violent. The subject matter ,of course, from the most brutal and repellent acts (as hard to write as they were to read) down to the seemingly insignificant “casual” exchanges (the subtle violence and one-upmanship of words). But also, the way the book was written. It’s not an easy book, unless you’re willing to accept it, like the South itself, where MUDVILLE, for the most part, takes place. A lost world of undercurrents and contradictions, of antebellum ideas and hot thick Southern air filled with God and gunpowder. It’s been twenty-five years since the Civil War ended and the novel begins, the war itself (and the South’s ignominious defeat) still fresh in everyone’s minds, particularly the population of Mudville, Arkansas. It’s a powder keg with a very long fuse that’s been lit. It’s a wagon hauling nitroglycerin with the horses racing out of control. The world of MUDVILLE is a place where violence is in the air we breathe, in the pores of our skin, and in Postupack’s world, in the words themselves, in the style and voice. A harsh voice to be sure, stripped of superfluity (even the commas are absent, to be replaced by space where the winds of the Dust Bowl blow through ‘til you can taste it in your mouth, the dust as you say the words. And yes, MUDVILLE is a book that’s meant to be read aloud, that’s meant to be heard). And if you are able to immerse yourself in its voice, then its poetry can be realized. A poetry that’s not sentimental, but is full of rust and gunsmoke and relentless summer heat and skin cracked and desiccated from a merciless sun beating down through bullet holes. The question that’s asked is whether it’s possible for absolution in a world abandoned to such violence and despair. A world where even God has it in for us, where each moment he plots our destruction. But there are moments… After a lynching and a particularly heinous act, James Flynn the anti-hero removes his Ku Klux Klan hood and notices the stars, the crisp night air, and for a moment he is in tune with all things. And the reader is appalled, yet can’t help but notice a glimmer of humanity. Here again, the contradictions. Or James’s sadness beyond despair when his son is killed, when he tries to obliterate the world that somehow let this happen. And then later, a kind of elation as he watches a meteor shower overhead “like a kinda fireworks display.”
Then in the present day, when Jimmy Flynn is drawn into this same world of violence that was his grandfather’s legacy. How seamlessly he’s assimilated, as he “feels the power of the rifle as the bullets ripped through barn boards; this power that has nothing to do with character or merit or intelligence or creativity but is primal and deadly and comes from simply holding a loaded gun in your hands.” And in the end, God has the last laugh, as the sum total of human endeavor becomes a country song sung off-key about “Heaven’s golden shores.” MUDVILLE is a novel that offers no answers, but rather, is a spotlight shining a harsh, uncomfortable beam on those places we’d rather keep hidden, but given the right time and place, become us, become who we are.
London, June 2012
(Click on book)