ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Beyond all the fireworks, barbeques, and hotdog-eating contests, the Fourth of July is a day for declarations of independence. And that's the theme today for our series, Three Books. These reading recommendations come from writer, Will Layman.
Mr. WILL LAYMAN (Writer): From the moment Huckleberry Finn sat on his raft and decided, all right, then, I'll go to hell, great American books have featured people setting off on their own, bound for the new. I'm crazy about these three rebellion stories ? tales of young folks splitting from parents, from society, and from their past. Each is both personal and political ? just right for the July of an election year rife with questions of youth, age and change.
The hero of Joey Goebel's brand-new novel, "Commonwealth," is in a state of fascinating flux. Blue Gene Mapother rejects his past as a polo shirt-wearing prepster, in favor of monster trucks and a mullet. This makes him the black sheep of his wealthy family. That is, until he joins his brother's congressional campaign and woos small-town, blue-collar voters with common-man charm.
All is well until Blue Gene falls for the lead singer of the rock band Uncle Sam's Finger, who points out that Gene's elite family is using him and the rest of the town. Enlightened, angry, and elaborately tattooed, Blue Gene breaks from his family and uses his inheritance to serve the poor, throwing a monkey wrench into his brother's election.
Tristan Egolf's 1998 novel, "Lord of the Barnyard," is also about a small-town iconoclast. The hero is described as the freak on a tractor, the corncrib fascist. He takes over his mother's poultry farm with such prodigious skill that he runs afoul of adult authority before the age of 12. And his reckless spirit becomes the subject of myth when he organizes his fellow sanitation workers in a garbage strike just to spite the town for misunderstanding him.
Egolf writes like a bottle-rocket in the night, sparks fly. The story zigzags from a barroom brawl to a riot in town hall. It's done with manic hilarity and not a lick of dialogue.
The natural precursor to these antic fictions of individuality is "Vineland," Thomas Pynchon's 1990 novel about Prairie Wheeler. Prairie's dad is an aging hippie, and her mom vanished during the radical 1960s after selling out her friends to a federal prosecutor. Prairie's quest to track down her mother introduces her to rock 'n' roll, feminist martial arts, and underground filmmaking.
"Vineland" is chock-a-block with hijinks. In what other serious book can you experience a ninja singing the song, "Just a Floozy with an Uzi?" But it also contains Pynchon's most ambivalent and realistic character. Prairie knows she's not like her doper dad, but fears being her turncoat mom. The only smart thing she can do is strike out on her own.
Independence, however, is never easy. The characters in these three books fly free of convention and so does the wild language. I can't think of a better time to enjoy some good, old-fashioned American rebellion than the Fourth of July.
SIEGEL: Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician in the Washington, DC area. His Fourth of July recommendations are Joey Goebel's "Commonwealth," Tristan Egolf's "Lord of the Barnyard," and "Vineland" by Thomas Pynchon. You can find more suggestions from our series Three Books at npr.org.