“…’Cause I headed West to grow up with the country / Across those prairies with those waves of grain / And I saw my devil, and I saw my deep blue sea / And I thought about a calico bonnet from Cheyenne to Tennessee.”
— Gram Parsons’ “Return of the Grievous Angel”
The singer/songwriter had the ability to draw from the well of his past and experiences to inform his writing. Some authors painted a picture so aching, vivid and funny you felt yourself knocked back into a chair, mysteriously pulled up directly beside them so you wouldn’t miss a word; elbows on your knees, chin in your hands.
Jeffery Viles’ The Sasquatch Murder (A Love Story) put me in a “What if…?” state-of-mind. What if someone of Parsons’ caliber, who in his short yet exceptional career, wrote the story of how the accidental shooting of a female Sasquatch sets multiple plots in motion instead of Viles? Sardonic and self-effacing, but proud enough he wore his love for country-western and gospel literally stitched on his Nudie suit, I’m certain his approach would have been more successful in the attempt to marry city and country storytelling. The authenticity of his writing would surely have been a welcome presence.
Alas, my wishful thinking shook free and instead Viles’ book–painted with amber-gold nostalgia and painfully broad stereotypes sadly meant to remind of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, OH only to fall more on the scale of a digression cutaway gag on the animated comedy, Family Guy–lost me as soon as the book shuffled from the woods into a small-town chock full of corny characters. It made Andy Griffith’s Mayberry look like Twin Peaks. Mind you, I didn’t have the expectations that a self-published novel from a first-time author would meet the level of an alt-country godfather’s dusty truck stop tales. It was difficult, though, to get through the first few chapters because of the inconsistency of tone and grammatical errors, despite the promising idea. And perhaps that’s the reason my mind wandered to the “What if…?” place set to the music of Parsons.
Jeffery Viles’ reporting skills from his journalism background soon took hold and his obvious love for history and its map of lessons learned–easy to reference to best know how to proceed, but seldom done–put a big shining red bow of irony on many of the book’s plotlines, providing them with much-needed potential. Enough of a fledgling idea that it kept me slogging through (and even generated a bit of hope that this first-time author’s book would improve, to make my time spent reading it worth SOMETHING) until the very end. Strangely, even though the descriptions of nature were full of real affection, I was surprised how little depth Viles gave the Sasquatch creatures. Maybe they were meant for a catchy title and not much else.
However, those characters who the author deemed worthy were well fleshed-out and likeable. Unfortunately, others might well be better off if they never existed. There was no need to tick off all the various character types that weren’t represented on the page and it was surely unnecessary to present those who tip toe deep enough into racist stereotype territory. The decision to do so was baffling. This combined with the multiple digressions into unrelated topics meant to appear deep, but only silly, made me realize this pandering book was a waste of my sympathy and time.
At least it made me listen to Gram Parsons catalog over and over again, which thankfully swept out the ashes in the morning.