Sunday, January 11, 2009

Go East, Young Man

Go East, Young Man
by Harrison Lebowitz

(Sleeping Dog Press - CreateSpace / 1-440-47361-7 / 978-1-440-47361-6 / December 2008 / 320 pages / $19.95)

Fans of The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Third Rock from the Sun will love Go East, Young Man. This is Harrison Lebowitz’ first novel, but he has been publishing a successful newsletter and other short works for years, and the depth of his compositional experience shines through his first humorous book. This is the sort of story about morons that could not possibly have been written by a moron. Are you aware that Howard Morris appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as a nerdy little college professor before he became Ernest T. Bass? I bet you didn’t know that Ernest T. was behind the camera directing many of those classic Andy Griffith episodes, either! If you can get your rock-throwing arm around this concept, you will easily recognize the brilliance of Go East, Young Man.

The basic plot of the novel is that a small, very un-corporate, family rancher in southeast Texas, specifically thirty miles north of the Houston metro area, in 1987, is threatened by foreclosure. He makes a decision to take his family and ranch hands and leave the Old Miss Ranch forever. These are supposedly people who have never left their small-town birthplace, and herein lies the first load of manure that you have to swallow to begin this journey. You mean they are close enough to Houston Intercontinental to have the jets scare their cattle and they have never even been to Houston? The second big cow patty coming at you is that these lovable cowboy clowns are going to drive their herd to New York City to get top dollar for their beef on the hoof because they have always heard that NYC is just a big meat market! Remember that you had to swallow that oil gusher from Jed Clampett’s farm and that aliens from outer space live undetected in a small college town, too. You get the drift: if you can swallow the pretext and have a well-developed sense of humor, you’ll be happy to saddle up and move ‘em out with this wild bunch.

Go East, Young Man is quite clever from cover to cover. The cover design is made to imitate a movie. This is difficult to communicate to you in a review, but the back cover is sort of like one of those familiar coming to a theatre near you! advertisements. The story is told by the youngest son, and you will be immediately reminded of Kevin Arnold telling you about his butthead big brother. Harrison says that you could read the book because it’s a hoot to make fun of Texas, but as a Texan myself, I can assure you that there is nothing to be seriously offended by in this book, even though it was written by a Vermont Yankee. I was even surprised at how consistently accurate the geography is described. The boys are supposedly following a AAA map on their cattle drive, but I wonder if Mr. Lebowitz hasn’t actually spent a little time in southeast Texas! This is a very intelligent book, with tons of little inside jokes, references to pop culture, and deliberate misspellings.

This leads me to my only criticism of Harrison’s first novel. The conceit is so delicately difficult to maintain throughout more than three-hundred pages that sometimes the style is a little flat in its constant past-tense rhetoric. There are also a few too many proofreading errors that easily confuse the reader due to the delicate nature just mentioned. I know this problem intimately because I composed parts of my own first book, Plastic Ozone Daydream, in a very similar style. When you attempt such a heroic compositional style, you have to be extremely careful with your editing because you have deliberately stated many words and phrases in an incorrect manner for their inside jokes and humorous effect. There are a number of instances in the storyline where I am not sure if the storyteller momentarily fell out of character or if the author just made a little boo-boo. For example, every little ant-dot-sized town mentioned in the book is real and located in the right place, yet every time the word posse is mentioned, it is spelled possee. This is what I mean by the concept falling flat occasionally. The characters speak eloquently one moment and like hillbillies from Hicksville the next, and that’s where the humor and intelligence of the storyline kicks butt. As a writer with a similar style, as well as a book critic, I’m just saying that for this style of writing to flow as smoothly as possible, the reader has got to know with the turn of every screwy phrase that the author meant exactly what he wrote.

Don’t misunderstand my negative viewpoint. I assure you that this is just a tiny detail like a fly on a horse’s tail. I am a critic so it is my job to tell the readers the whole truth as I see it. Even with its small flaw, Go East, Young Man is an extremely clever, intelligent, funny, nostalgic, original book. You’ll be reminded that Clint Eastwood used to be Rowdy Yates. You will identify with the voice of Even Tinier Bert and his relationship with his older brother much as you sympathized with Kevin Arnold. Mr. Yankee Lebowitz has created a gang of likable, memorable, Southern characters, and Mr. Harrison the Vermont vineyard owner knows how to drive a herd to New Yawk City!

See Also: The BNN Review
The Author's Website
More About the Book

No comments: