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Wyoming (2000)

por Barry Gifford

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"[Gifford's] new novel, "Wyoming," is a tender and understated story."-Jonathan Miles in "The New York Times Book Review" A woman and her young son travel by car through the southern and Midwestern United States in this heartbreakingly spare novel-in-dialogue. As the mother drives, she and the boy, Roy, trade impressions of the landscape and of life, approaching an understanding of how the two interrelate. "Everybody needs Wyoming," she tells him.… (mais)
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A few years ago, my wife and I were driving across the United States and had a conversation which went something like this:

“Nebraska sure is flat, huh?€?
“Flatter than flat.â€?
“Can I have a sip of that Big Gulp?â€?
“The Coke’s all gone. I finished it off a few minutes ago and now I really have to pee.â€?
“I’ll find a place. Is it okay if I turn up the radio?â€?
“Sure, hon, but not too loud, okay?â€?
“How’s that?â€?
“It’s fine. But I still have to pee.â€?
“I told you I’ll find a place.â€?
“You just passed an exit. You could have stopped there. What’s the matter, you want me get a bladder infection?â€?
“No, hon. I like your bladder just the way it is.â€?
“I sure wouldn’t know it by the way you’re passing up all these exits.â€?
“There’ll be another one coming up. Just listen to the radio. That’ll take your mind off that Big Gulp.â€?
“You’re not helping matters, you know.â€?
“Nebraska sure is flat, huh?â€?

__________________________

Pick up a copy of Barry Gifford’s slim novel Wyoming and that’s the sort of thing you’ll find on most of its pages (*Note to copyright lawyers: I appropriated one of Mr. Gifford’s sentences for the semi-autobiographic example above.).

Except for one startling chapter which reads like a Raymond Carver short story, the 127-page novel is comprised entirely of dialogue between a mother and her 9-year-old son driving through the southeastern United States in the late 1950s. A few line drawings by Gifford are also scattered throughout.

Roy and his mother talk about everything from Civil War ghosts to dinosaur brains to serial killers. The conversations flow in stream-of-consciousness loops (much like my feeble dialogue above), but they always dance around certain subjects—the events of the mother’s childhood for one, and Roy’s deadbeat father for another.

Non-linear in structure and stylistically as spare as wind-stripped sagebrush, Wyoming charts the emotional topography of the two characters as they drift from state to state but never come anywhere near the geography of the title. Wyoming comes up in conversation only once, as a refuge from all the bad things of the world.

We’re never quite sure why Roy and his mother have been cast adrift (or how they have enough money for gas, food and lodging), but we sense this is a woman who’s literally driving in circles looking for some meaning in her life. Her ex-husband—a salesman—is here, there and everywhere on the globe and in the car conversations. He lurks like a hum beneath their every word:

“Where are we now, Mom?â€?
“Macon, Georgia.â€?
“What’s here?â€?
“Oh, most likely the same as everyplace else. Men and women who don’t understand each other and aren’t really willing or able to try.â€?

The book is either deceptively subtle or a wicked trick of postmodern fiction. I vote for the latter. The dialogue—which pretends to be as natural and breezy as a half-open car window—is actually precocious and stilted. I never felt that these were anything but characters reciting dialogue like lines from a play.

[Incidentally, Wyoming was, in fact, produced on stage at San Francisco’s Magic Theater earlier this year. I’m sure it worked better under the spotlights than it does on the page.]

For such a young kid—even a kid who is so obviously coming of age—Roy sure seems wise beyond his years. What other 9-year-old do you know who goes around discussing spirituality in these terms? “Your soul flies away like a crow when you die and hides in a cloud. When it rains that means the clouds are full of souls and some of ’em are squeezed out. Rain is the dead souls there’s no more room for in heaven.â€?

Even the youths in those on-the-road-with-Mom movies Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Tumbleweeds weren’t that precocious.

Don’t get me wrong—there are individual moments of brilliance at work here, but they don’t really add up to a satisfying whole. What a shame because Gifford really is a good writer. I’ve never read any of his novels (more than a dozen so far), but I enjoyed the off-kilter screenplay for David Lynch’s sexed-up Wizard of Oz film Wild at Heart. Here, the talk is all Scarecrow (brain), but little Tin Man (heart).

There is one startlingly good chapter—the only time Gifford breaks from the all-dialogue bonds—which is actually a short story “written by Roy’s mother.â€? Whether or not this relates to the rest of the narrative or if it’s even actually about Roy’s mom, it’s a literary punch to the solar plexus—as good as anything Raymond Carver ever wrote.

As for the rest of the babbling stream of consciousness…well…

I haven’t got a beef against postmodern fiction per se—I’m a big fan of Richard Brautigan and Robert Coover’s “The Babysitterâ€? makes my scalp tingle—but something just doesn’t quite work in Gifford’s novel. Maybe it runs out of gas, maybe it overheats under the hood, but the mother-son gabfest never arrives at its destination. Book buyers are advised to take the next exit. ( )
1 vote davidabrams | May 19, 2006 |
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Gifford, BarryAutorautor principaltodas as ediçõesconfirmado
Gifford, BarryIlustradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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"[Gifford's] new novel, "Wyoming," is a tender and understated story."-Jonathan Miles in "The New York Times Book Review" A woman and her young son travel by car through the southern and Midwestern United States in this heartbreakingly spare novel-in-dialogue. As the mother drives, she and the boy, Roy, trade impressions of the landscape and of life, approaching an understanding of how the two interrelate. "Everybody needs Wyoming," she tells him.

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