I received a review copy of Marco Zaffino’s “Pure Bred Chihuahua” from Matthew Read of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die a while back. It’s taken me some time to get through, and I’m still not entirely sure what I think of the book.
I began to shake from the beauty and the endorphins; ecstasy came from my every pore until I heard so clearly what Marigold was saying. It was very simple. She said: “Walk. Listen. Love.” My words, words of Vernon! What a soft and simple gift Marigold had given me. And I understood what the starlings spoke of. They spoke of the little Tygers in front of me dying of thirst, blinded by all that the world offers, and that thre is a war being waged in every plane of existence and that is the battle for Awareness. Humanity was a self-defacing super-nova. I gazed at the poor souls in my dream, wandering the city streets, with their petty worries, and their major worries, and their crippled energies that were caught up in so many webs that they had no energy left for freedom. a plague incubated: and then I awoke.
The book tells the story of Vernon Young, a man who uses astral projecting and remote viewing to participate in a cosmic war between good and evil. He finds himself facing creatures who feed on the life energy of humans and who want to destroy ideas that are central to the human consciousness, erasing the entire knowledge of concepts such as love or happiness.
Vernon is aided in his travels by Marigold, his attractive and somewhat incestuous cousin, and his mentor Carmine, a family friend who plays the role of a diplomat both on an international level and in other realms of consciousness.
For the first 80 or so pages, I struggled. The narration is written a bit like a script, with the narrator’s identity shown by a single letter at the heading of each chapter. I thought that this was an interesting way of handling multiple narrators, except the narrators didn’t each have an individual voice. They all seemed to speak in Vernon’s voice, which retrospectively makes the book more complex. Speaking of voice, the first half of the book was written largely in the passive voice, which annoyed me considerably. Show, not tell, dammit!
But, after about 80 pages, I got hooked. We find out that Vernon is schizophrenic and has been given plenty of “therapeutic” drugs, which led me to question whether the entire story that we’re being told is true or not. It is plausible enough to be real (in a sci-fi/fantasy sense, anyway), but at the same time it could all be one of Vernon’s delusions, especially since all of the narrators still seem to carry a good deal of his own perspective through the writing style. Their lack of a distinct voice adds to the whole unreliable narrator thing, and I’m a fan of unreliable narrators. The convoluted storytelling manages to actually work.
It makes me happy when authors trust readers enough to tell us not to believe everything that they are saying, and to question the very story that we are being told. I found myself wanting to believe Vernon’s story, but then every time Vernon interacted with his father and mother we could see their perspective on his delusions. We sympathize with them for having a crazy child, while at the same time wishing that Vernon really isn’t crazy and is actually the savior of the universe.
Realizing that this is a proof copy, I’m not going to comment on some of the spelling/grammar issues that I noticed while reading. I’m assuming that they’ll be corrected in the final versions.
Overall, I enjoyed this book tremendously once I got through the first segment. It was strange, trippy, and different from many of the other books that I’ve read before. I was intrigued by Vernon’s ghosts and how he dealt with them, and at the end of the story I am still questioning if any of it actually happened. Zaffino did an excellent job in portraying Vernon’s varying mental states, introducing readers to both strange and wonderful worlds while sending Vernon on a journey to Enlightenment.