Rebecca Solnit identified two disparate meanings of the word “lost” in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost: “Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing.” Bill Peters’ first novel, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality, does a tremendous job of exploring these two meanings with characters who think and speak with an idiomatic style made up of in-jokes (“Colonel Hellstache,” “Pinning Bow Ties on the Dead,” “Jaeger Cowpunch”) shared between characters that, over the course of the book, competes with the generic language of the Real World.
Peters’ characters ably resist the realities of adult life (until they can’t) and its pre-existing modes of expression, which one character claims have been “made stale or co-opted into oblivion by government agencies,” forcing man to be “incarcerated by his own linguistic detritus.” This helps to explain why, at an earlier point in the novel, that same character makes the following pronouncement: “Your dad was a gelding and your mother was a whale, and they gave birth to a suitcase with a flesh mask inside.”
The arc of Maverick Jetpants’ story will be familiar to readers of contemporary coming-of-age novels: Nate, the book’s narrator, chronicles the unraveling of his best friendship with Necro, an artist caught up in a “business opportunity venture” for “capital – you know – expenditure or whatever” with a dangerous group of neo-Nazis; the differences between his oddball stepdad (Fake Dad No. 3) and biological father (Real Dad); the banal thrill of cruising through a place (Rochester, New York, 1999) you simultaneously curse and celebrate; and the demands and dialect of adulthood.
Peters’ singular style is so good, though, his character’s sentence-shapes and sounds so far from bored or boring, that plot summary seems somewhat beside the point. Nate suffers from what you could call VDD (Vocational Deficit Disorder), and Peters’ voice sometimes resembles what Joshua Cohen recently referred to as E.S.L.: “Ennui as a Second Language, or Emulating Sam Lipsyte, a style that entertains through mortification, and mortifies through . . . you get it.” Even directionally challenged characters with bit parts have voices that want to sing on the page. A character introduced near the end of the book has the following first words: “So let’s go get that drink already […] Pitcher of Get-the-Hell-Outta-Here-Juice.”
As the novel progresses the constituent parts of Nate’s narration mutate from fast-and-furious slang to more serious units of straight-talk. Compare, for example, the following two passages. The first is from a scene early in the book, immediately after an explosion that has injured Nate and Necro’s friend Wicked College John; the second from a scene late in the book, involving their friend Toby:
“Because, I come out here and try to talk to Necro about a Plan. And, now? Necro knee-slides on the pavement to perform CPR on Wicked College John? Like he’s trying to be Tadahito Murakami: Ninja Surgeon and save the world?”
“Since I’m calling this evening over, I twirl my keys around my index finger. But suddenly I feel a scrape on my knuckle and my keys are gone, because Toby just yanked my key ring off my finger, hooked the girl’s body with one arm, and opened the driver’s side rear door and slammed it shut. He slaps down all the locks on the windowsills and immediately grabs the girl by her hair and facebombs her on the lips. I hear her gag and try to say something, and Toby’s suctioning her whole face practically, and something creaks in the car, and a handprint smears on the window, and I see Toby’s fist under the back of her shirt, and the girl’s hair mats up against the glass, and Toby almost rolls into the seat well, and the car shakes when he palms the floor….”
September 30th, 2013 / 11:00 am