Against the Country by Ben Metcalf has a tone that makes me wonder what if Ambrose Bierce and Mark Twain became one. Well they have in Ben Metcalf. A ne’er do well moves his family from Illinois to rural Virginia, a place they chose because they ran out of gas money. As good a reason as any. Well this southern rural life ain’t as easy as one might think. Much of the remembrances start with the promises made when the razing of a shed would yield a swimming pool or a basketball court. Instead the dreams were dashed and the murdered shed became a refuge pile much to the chagrin of neighbors and their honking cars as they passed by. The son is our narrator and he tells of a horrifying childhood. It is like watching a hockey game for the fights or a car race for the crashes. We read about this family to see how much worse it can get. And we chuckle as we read, not because of our cruelty, but because of Metcalf’s brilliance with words.
Now we must remember point of view, so I provide this opening paragraph of the Chapter “O Goochland” “O Goochland, O county of blood and pus, O breaker of families, O bed of agriculture’s deceit; older creature than the nation you betrayed; promiser of plenty, provider of naught; stalker of happiness, thief of hope; butcher of nerves, baker of brains; proud home of the skill-less, luckless Bulldogs; site of my elementary through high school education;” So the horrors and his description of said horrors of remembrances of a youth. He tells us his education happened on the schoolbus. Let me ask you, do we have more or less snow now than when you were a kid? See what I mean. It is the perspective, the point of view, POV!
Goochland!! Great name for a county. So many connotations. At one point I’m wondering if the narrator of this book becomes Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Our narrator has had a troubled youth with many vivid and horrible images of that troubled youth. His ramblings about his youth reminds me of the classic “Four Yorkshiremen Sketch” by the pre Monty Python group.
This work of fiction is a string of vignettes, stories, metaphors, treatises on literature all to help make a point about growing up and the process; metaphors pure and simple. He hones in on a word, or an object, or an incident, or a fuzzy memory and wraps it in a story and concludes it with an aphorism. I love the stroll down Literary Lane, the allusions, the memories, and the metaphors. It is similar to Montaigne’s essays, but fiction. It is about his father and Metcalf’s way of doing it is familiar as in my own version called, My Father wasn’t Handy. All I know is “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.”