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Boonvilleby Robert Mailer Anderson
Synopses & Reviews
Boonville. John couldn't believe the town was actually named Boonville. It wasn't just an expression, a private joke among his family describing where his whacked-out, alcoholic grandmother had lived and made squirrel sculptures from driftwood. This place existed. He was driving his dead grandmother's '78 Datsun down the main strip, eyes wide with disbelief as the principal attractions shot past: gas station, video store, bar, market, bar, hotel, drive-in, health-food store, open highway. He continued along the two-lane road expecting the rest of the town to appear, more buildings, street signs, traffic, a Burger King for Christ's sake. But there was nothing, a slab of concrete wedged between trees and hills, winding away from what he thought must have been a mirage. Two more miles of pastoral landscape and he flicked on his blinker, signaling for the hell of it, checking his rearview mirror and seeing nobody coming or going in either direction. He steered the car to the skirt of the road, engine coughing and wheezing, dieseling and then farting a cloud of carbon monoxide into the country air. The motor made a mechanical ticking sound. John sat motionless behind the wheel. Tick, tick, tick.
"I'm going to put this as nicely as I can, John," he remembered his girlfriend saying, two weeks before he booked his flight from Miami to San Francisco. "Your grandma was a spent bitch!"
Born a communications major, Christina had a flair for tact. She had recently told John on a crowded bus, within earshot of at least twenty Cubans, she felt like a potato chip dunked into a can of black bean dip.
"Completely fucking gaga," she elaborated. "Growing marijuana at age seventy,shooting a guy in the leg because he had a bad aura. Woodchuck sculptures? Your father said she lived in a shack, and that town Boonville, I read somewhere it's so backward they have their own language."
John had read the same piece on the town's odd lingo, Boontling, which had sprouted around the turn of the century at "hop-pickin' campaigns," a mish-mash of slang that used English as its base. Grandma had said it was as dead as Latin. Only a fistful of locals spoke it, transplants from Arkansas, hard-drinking, tobacco-chewing bullshit artists. In the article there had been a picture of two such men, dirty workshirts, rifles in the gun racks of their pickup trucks, a half-mouth of teeth between them, conversing in front of a restaurant called the Horn of Zeese, which was Boontling for "cup of coffee." Quaint or disturbing, John couldn't decide.
"Christina," he pleaded, unable to recall the last time they had done something spontaneous together, aside from switching longdistance carriers. They never did take those tango classes or learn to salsa. He'd suggest weekend trips without a destination, renting scuba gear, exploring the Everglades. She would agree, and then find an excuse to stay home. Queen of the twenty-four-hour flu. If he argued, she changed the subject to their careers or lack of cash flow.
"Think about it," Christina demanded, with her usual single-mindedness. "Until she died, that woman was living in the sixties. It wasn't even her generation."
Grandma had kept John updated on her protests, weekend attempts to save the spotted owl, the coho salmon, the giant redwoods. The endangered-species cause cé lè bre. She had been arrested a dozen times intowns he couldn't find on a map, Albion, Covelo, Laytonville, and, of course, Boonville. She had once sent a postcard from the jailhouse of Point Arena that consisted of two Thoreau quotes, "I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows." and "What are "you doing out "there?" John had found his grandmother's radicalism endearing, transforming her lifelong bitterness into something useful. Christina said, "If she really wanted "change, she'd pool her resources with other hippies and hire a lobbyist."
Christina had grown more conservative since their college days at the University of Miami, developing a low tolerance for anything that didn't increase their savings account. It was beginning to dominate the details of their life, the food they ate, the jokes they told, the plays and museum exhibitions they missed. She even dressed differently, skirt suits, hair pulled back and set with a clip. Sensible shoes. Before it was loose T-shirts and loud Bermudas, hair falling unevenly onto her shoulders, eyes that asked, "What next?" She would go braless, sometimes sans panties. "Easy access," she would coo, and they would make love in elevators, parking lots, on the beach. Now it was predictable, clothes, conduct, conversation. And sex only occurred in bed, if they had scheduled a "sex date."
"The sixties are over, the seventies are over, and the eighties are closing fast," Christina told him, demonstrating how history could be disposed of in neat packages. "Your grandma didn't realize that, and now she's dead."
"What does that have to do with anything?" John wanted to know.
He looked around their apartment, pastel furniture and white carpeting.Carefully selected chrome and glass accessories. Television, front and center. A stack of coasters on a coffee table with magazines spread out just so, "Glamour, "House Beautiful, "Vanity Fair. Mood dimmer halogen track lighting, an Italian floor lamp that took six weeks to be delivered, all ordered from one of Christina's catalogs. Over the sofa, a framed Ansel Adams print of a forest of white-trunked trees.
What compromise had led to that purchase? John wondered. It must have been the day he wanted to buy the Diane Arbus photograph of the retarded girl touching her toes.
"Muerto!" Christina spit, and even in another language her point was still unclear. "Her whole way of thinking is done."
Outside the apartment, Florida air hung as hot and tight as a sunbather's butt thong. Through the window, John watched palm trees droop with the weight of the afternoon ...
"Because I think Boonville by Robert Mailer Anderson is terrific, I am obliged to state that he is not relative. He has, however, written a most exciting first novel and gives more than a few signs that he could become a member of that vanishing American breed — a major novelist." Norman Mailer
"Boonville heralds the debut of an engaging, clear-eyed new talent. Robert Mailer Anderson has achieved an engrossing vision of tangled lives on the edge of the world, and done it on an ambitious scale. He has drawn the Northern California counterculture scene, its mores and wildnesses, with a fresh, original hand. Best of all, he is writing as one of the rare members of his emerging generation that brings a true moral and philosophical depth to his edgy subject matter." Naomi Wolf
"Robert Mailer Anderson is a young writer of energy, style and wit. Those three qualities may not sell books in today's hyper-market, but I found them charming." Martin Cruz Smith
"Robert Mailer Anderson's a brilliant new voice — twitchy, corny, sly, cackling and sad, but most of all, racing with vitality and goosing you to keep up. Boonville is the creepy and hilarious coming-of-age story the territory deserves — not your parents' Vineland, but your own." Jonathan Lethem
"Robert Mailer Anderson is a very sick man — and a very funny writer." Carl Hiassen
Surrounded by misfits, rednecks, and counterculture burnouts, John Gibson—the reluctant heir of an alcoholic grandmother—and Sarah McKay—a commune-reared "hippie-by-association"—search for self and community in the hole-of-a-town Boonville. As they try to assemble from the late-twentieth-century jumble of life the facts of sexuality, love, and death, and face the possibility of an existence without God, John and Sarah learn what happens when they dare to try to make art from their lives.
John Gibson's alcoholic grandmother lived in the northern California, hole-in-the-wall town of Boonville where she was known as the "squirrel lady." In her will, she leaves John her decrepit cabin. Needing a change from his pastel and air-conditioned life in Miami, John ditches his girlfriend and condo and moves to Boonville to claim his inheritence. Much to John's chagrin however, Boonville is not the hippie, free-loving town he assumed it was. Sarah McKay, a "hippie by association" has reluctantly lived her whole life outside of Boonville on her mother's commune. The locals, with the exception of Sarah, are not happy to see a new face — especially a handsome outsider.
Darkly comic, Boonville tells of these two young people actively searching for self and community in a small town of misfits, rednecks, and counter-culture burnouts.
About the Author
Robert Mailer Anderson was born in San Francisco in 1968, three years before his parents were divorced. He was the fifth generation of his family — a clan comprised largely of railroad workers, San Quentin prison guards, and tamale vendors — to be raised across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Rafael. He spent every other weekend and summers with his father in Mendocino County, reading, playing sports, and accompanying his father to his business, a home for juvenile delinquents, where young Anderson encountered some "hard cases" who were later convicted of, among other crimes, armed robbery, rape, and murder. One former resident, David Mason, was executed by the state. Several others are on death row.
At age fourteen, Anderson moved in with his father "full time" and, due to financial constraints, the group home. He started high school in Ukiah, where he was routinely kicked out of classes. He took a year off from school and played golf. He developed a gambling habit. He began contributing articles to the Anderson Valley Advertiser, where his uncle, Bruce Anderson, was editor and publisher. Eventually, he graduated from Anderson Valley High School in Boonville. He played three varsity sports and was MVP of the NCL III in baseball. He was student body president until he was impeached.
Pursuing a career in baseball, Anderson matriculated to the University of Miami, where he did not play. He was then transferred to the College of Marin, where he pitched and played first base for a semester and a half before packing his possessions into the trunk of a "borrowed" Cadillac, cashing his student loan check, and heading to Mexico.
When the money ran out, he moved to New York City, where he had a series of unfulfilling jobs: selling suits, telemarketing, moving furniture, and temping. He did stand-up comedy, once. He played basketball at West Fourth Street. He was accepted into a creative writing tutorial taught by Shelby Hearon at the Ninety-second Street Y.
In 1995, Anderson's short story "36-28-34-7" was published by Christopher Street. He began referring to himself as "the heterosexual voice of gay lit."
Anderson lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children, son Dashiell and daughter Lucinda. He is co-owner of Quotidian art gallery and is on the board of the San Francisco Opera Association. Boonville is his first novel.
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