Fans of The Beverly Hillbillies,
Green Acres, and Third Rock from the Sun will love Go East, Young Man. This is Harrison Lebowitzâ€™ first novel, but he has been publishing a successful newsletter and other short works for years, and the depth of his compositional experience shines through his first humorous book. This is the sort of story about morons that could not possibly have been written by a moron. Are you aware that Howard Morris appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as a nerdy little college professor before he became Ernest T. Bass? I bet you didnâ€™t know that Ernest T. was behind the camera directing many of those classic Andy Griffith episodes, either! If you can get your rock-throwing arm around this concept, you will easily recognize the brilliance of Go East, Young Man.
The basic plot of the novel is that a small, very un-corporate, family rancher in southeast Texas, specifically thirty miles north of the Houston metro area, in 1987, is threatened by foreclosure. He makes a decision to take his family and ranch hands and leave the Old Miss Ranch forever. These are supposedly people who have never left their small-town birthplace, and herein lies the first load of manure that you have to swallow to begin this journey. You mean they are close enough to Houston Intercontinental to have the jets scare their cattle and they have never even been to Houston? The second big cow patty coming at you is that these lovable cowboy clowns are going to drive their herd to New York City to get top dollar for their beef on the hoof because they have always heard that NYC is just a big meat market! Remember that you had to swallow that oil gusher from Jed Clampettâ€™s farm and that aliens from outer space live undetected in a small college town, too. You get the drift: if you can swallow the pretext and have a well-developed sense of humor, youâ€™ll be happy to saddle up and move â€˜em out with this wild bunch.
Go East, Young Man is quite clever from cover to cover. The cover design is made to imitate a movie. This is difficult to communicate to you in a review, but the back cover is sort of like one of those familiar coming to a theatre near you! advertisements. The story is told by the youngest son, and you will be immediately reminded of Kevin Arnold telling you about his butthead big brother. Harrison says that you could read the book because itâ€™s a hoot to make fun of Texas, but as a Texan myself, I can assure you that there is nothing to be seriously offended by in this book, even though it was written by a Vermont Yankee. I was even surprised at how consistently accurate the geography is described. The boys are supposedly following a AAA map on their cattle drive, but I wonder if Mr. Lebowitz hasnâ€™t actually spent a little time in southeast Texas! This is a very intelligent book, with tons of little inside jokes, references to pop culture, and deliberate misspellings.
This leads me to my only criticism of Harrisonâ€™s first novel. The conceit is so delicately difficult to maintain throughout more than three hundred pages that sometimes the style is a little flat in its constant past-tense rhetoric. I know this problem intimately because I composed parts of my own first book in a very similar style. This small negative detail is just a fly on a horseâ€™s tail, but as both an author and a critic it is my job to tell you, the reader, the truth as I see it. Even with its small flaw, Go East, Young Man is an extremely clever, intelligent, funny, nostalgic, original book. Youâ€™ll be reminded that Clint Eastwood used to be Rowdy Yates. You will identify with the voice of Even Tinier Bert and his relationship with his older brother much as you sympathized with Kevin Arnold. Mr. Yankee Lebowitz has created a gang of likable, memorable, Southern characters, and Mr. Harrison the Vermont vineyard owner knows how to drive a herd to New Yawk City!
(Sleeping Dog Press – CreateSpace / 1-440-47361-7 / 978-1-440-47361-6 / December 2008 / 320 pages /Â $19.95) – Get it at Amazon!
Floyd M. Orr is the author of Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture and three other books. He is the editor of POD Book Reviews & More and the proprietor of three blogs: Floyd M. Orr, Nonfiction in a Fictional Style, and Tiddlerosis.