South of the Pumphouse
by Linda Tate
South of the Pumphouse by Les Claypool is nothing short of a strange way to spend your time. While Les is a fair writer he’s a much better bassist and hopefully he won’t leave the music industry to try to write the next great American novel. He could be a good writer if he just wrote stories straight out instead of trying to disguise them with multiple layers and wordiness.
This story is about two brothers, Ed and Earl Paxton, who grew up in your typical low to middle income suburbs. Earl, the eldest, never left and has the same life that he’s had since high school. He’s followed in his father’s footsteps with a small life, fishing boat and drinking. Ed left El Sobrante and went to college, married a half Asian-half Black woman and lives in Berkeley. Each brother has become exactly what the other didn’t want to be.
The brothers meet up for a fishing trip and along for the ride is their childhood friend, Donny. Ed despises Donny, he’s crude and ill-mannered. He bullied him throughout his childhood. Earl is still friends with him, and invited him without talking to Ed first. Instantly putting the burr under the saddle, this trip is off to a rough start and between the excess drinking and drug use it doesn’t get any better. The events that follow will change their lives forever.
The dialogue was hard for me to swallow. Claypool had a “downhome” patois going, but it just sounded very uneducated and forced. (“cuz”, “shee-it” and “yer”) It reminded me of an exaggerated Twain novel, and frankly I never enjoyed those either. I think there can be a novel written in a local dialect or slang pattern without having it sound as if all the characters will never advance farther than Waffle House or Texaco.
The book had just enough story for me to say that I’ll read his next novel while wishing for the best, and little enough to make sure I procrastinate.