Sunday, November 18, 2012

Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality by Bill Peters

Aaron and I had a vision a couple of years back when we first discussed writing a blog by the name of The Literate Man: to ferret out the best works of modern literary fiction from among the unknown masses, which we were (and are) certain are all too often overlooked by the commercial establishment.  We continue to seek out works that not only entertain but challenge us as readers and break new creative ground in the process.  Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality is precisely what we had in mind.  We give it our highest recommendation.

A few disclaimers are necessary here: I grew up in Western New York, in farm country about 60 miles southwest of Rochester, the self-proclaimed "City of Quality," and the setting for Bill Peters' debut novel.  And like Bill Peters, my appreciation for Western New York and my own formative years, has grown with age and perspective.  We both seem to have great, vivid memories of the Golden Age of the Buffalo Bills, who made it to (and lost) four straight Super Bowls from 1991-1994.  The entire region's preoccupation with that brief glimpse of respectability on the national sports page is reflected again and again in the pages of Maverick Jetpants, not in references to American football per se, but in the holdover Bills-themed clothing worn by Nate and his cohorts.  It is one detail among many that depicts the slow, creeping desperation of daily life in a region in perpetual economic decline since the 1970's.  And Bill Peters captures it with art and precision.

By way of overview, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality is the entertaining portrait of Nathan Gray, an aimless but sympathetic young man, just a few unproductive years out of high school, as he and his small group of friends grasp about awkwardly (and, perhaps, violently) for what is to become the next stage of their lives.  Nate seems particularly unsuited to make the jump into adulthood, as evidenced by his near obsession with his group's past collective experience and an irrational fear that his best friend, Necro, is poised to leave him behind.  It is a novel that speaks to our common experience in coming of age and our common fears of being left behind by those closest to us.

The most impressive aspect of the novel, however, is Bill Peters' innovative use of dialogue.  The characters speak to one another (and Nate occasionally speaks to the reader) in a lexicon largely unique to his small group of friends--a series of humorous names and labels affixed to their common history.  It is a habit in which we all engage, but rarely notice, and beyond glimpses of the technique in Thomas Pynchon and the writings of David Foster Wallace, it is the first time that I have seen such a device become the centerpiece of a work of fiction.  It makes for a seemingly disjointed (but extremely enjoyable) tale that is woven together by the reader's intuitive understanding of the relationships and events described.  The novel becomes a post-adolescent version of Gravity's Rainbow, where Pirate Prentice is not a delusional American mercenary, but a retiring Generation X slacker, and post-World War II Europe becomes the post-industrial decline of the American rust belt.

Reportedly ten years in the making, Maverick Jetpants in the City of Quality announces the arrival of a powerful and innovative young voice in American fiction.  

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