I found this book in a used bookstore. I was wandering around the shelves randomly flipping through books, as you do. I didn’t have any specific titles or authors I was looking for, so it was a purely random visit.
A Scarecrow’s Bible had good cover so I took it off the shelf. By the start of the second paragraph I knew it was coming home with me, and I didn’t even know what it was about. Well, except for the back cover, but that can’t always be trusted.
So, why did I pick this? Second person narrative. And it looked like it was done really well.
It’s rare that you read a book where you’re the main character. Well, it’s not actually you, but it’s You. You sit and watch TV. You wait until no one is watching so you can take a few more prescription pain killers. You wash them down with whiskey. You close your eyes and wonder if you’ll wake up back in Vietnam. You wonder how long it will take before your wife looks at you with disappointment before she goes to bed.
You are Gary and you live near New Orleans, but not quite close enough. Sure, there’s a secret gay bar you can escape to, but you’re surrounded by guys who drive trucks, drink beer, and probably secretly long to bash a queer in the skull with a crowbar. You have a truck. You drink beer. You secretly long for something you know, but don’t know, but know you can’t name.
You meet Zachary by chance and he scares you. He’s too young and too frail and you want to love him but you know he needs to teach you how. He’s gay, he lives in the rural South, and it’s no use to try and hide it.
Life fell apart for you, maybe before you went to Vietnam. When you were there too much happened. The man you loved, or whatever it was you were doing, ends his story with a toe tag. And now you’re back home and your wife is afraid of her new life and what you are.
What are you?
You go to your doctor, you get your pills, you act the way you think you’re supposed to as a husband. You go to work, you try to ignore the sounds of helicopters and gunfire that no one else can hear.
You keep going crazy.
And you find Zachary.
And he saves you.
But you don’t know for how long.
This book was beautiful. Gary’s character is incredibly complicated but at the same time completely straight forward. Everything he does makes sense – he doesn’t make decisions that don’t fit with anything that’s happened so far in the book. He’s a solid character from beginning to end, and sitting in his head you get to watch him watch the world and then slowly piece together what he knew was already there.
When things fall apart, they do so violently. Very little happens in this book that isn’t extreme. There are no quiet deaths, quick arguments that are forgiven, nights that don’t end in blackouts. Quiet moments are too quiet and when a truck goes by you reach for a knife that isn’t there and dive under the kitchen table to survive.
It’s heartbreaking and I wanted him to stop circling Zachary and reach out for him, or for Zachary to step in and grab him. Their relationship is pure and somehow completely uncomplicated. It simply exists. Gary doesn’t struggle with how things are supposed to be or who he’s supposed to be or what life is supposed to be. He doesn’t need to close his eyes to hear the sounds and screams and voices and explosions from Vietnam, so nothing is the way it’s supposed to be.
The two find each other, things fall apart, things are destroyed, and Gary and everyone around him has to decide what happens next in order to live.
I read this book cover to cover in one sitting and it was incredibly satisfying. The language, the characters, the structure, the story itself… it gave me a physical sensation of solidness. It made me glad that this book was written.