Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gone to Be Snakes Now... Sure, Why Not?

What you see in the photo is my new obsession. I found it in my stocking Christmas morning (well, fake Christmas morning. I had to work on Christmas so we celebrated a day late) and all I can say is: Santa must know me pretty darn well. I mean, look at that cover! The triptastic patterning surrounding and penetrating the reproachful elderly gentleman... To say nothing of the brilliant title! It's the title that really gets me, of course. Is it a colloquialism? A warning? Kidspeak? I'm only halfway through, and I still don't know. It seems to be all of those, and more, and decidedly less.

For, you see, this book is awful. I mean, really, really, no holds barred, gloriously awful. I don't think the author even intended kitsch. The story seems to be meant as allegory more than actual science fiction. And I think this book is the real deal, somebody's heartfelt look at the "modern" era, and growing up. There are girls who are sexual and mysterious and know things about the "outside". There's a rebellious boy who's still a virgin but doesn't want to be. There are lots of trouser snakes. There's a hyper-sexualized mutated creature who haunts the town, killing men and taking willing girls back to his cave. No one can remember what came before their grandparents got to the town, or knows how they got there.

Oh, and did I mention that the town is named Exxon? And that the only other towns are named Mobile and Texaco? How about the part where everyone lives in giant, non-functioning gas stations? We learn early on that the main character is the "heir to the pumps of Exxon". And for some reason there is lots of talk about Henry James, despite the fact that few of the characters seem to know what books are.... Oh, and don't get me started on the play that some of the kids decide to put on in the swamp. It involves lots of poetry, and sex, and a girl dressed as a mushroom as other kids lift her into the air while intoning "boom, boom, boom". Really!

So, of course I had to do a little research to find out who this mad genius of an author might be. Turns out that Neal Bell was just a youth himself when this book was published in 1974. He did, in fact, receive his MFA that year! Aha! I think that may explain an awful lot here. Today he is a professor of Practice of Theater Studies at Duke University. He has a ton of produced plays to his name, as well as many television credits, including stints as a writer on One Life to Live and Knots Landing. Which somehow makes perfect sense... As does the fact that Gone to Be Snakes Now is his only published novel.

Thanks, Santa!


  1. So much for not being able to judge a book by it's cover, eh? Oh it's just so much more gloriously bizarre than I'd initially imagined when you first mentioned it, and that is definitely saying something. Santa was good to you indeed!

  2. Haha ~ I like the gas station references!
    This makes me want to see some of his plays...

  3. Thanks. I don't think I will have to read this one, but I found myself smiling broadly while reading this. Better you than me, and again, thanks for reporting :)

  4. Haha, it's amazing, Tatty!

    Justine, I really wonder...

    Tapirgal, I live to serve ;)


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