Your mom’s a slut. I just have to throw that out there. This isn’t going to be easy for either of us but we’re ripping off the band-aid, son.
The anger of a wronged man is vast and knowable. Vast, because they perceive that the world is pulling them down, their jobs, their women, their children, their obligations – it’s all one giant conspiracy to keep them low, down, trodden upon. These men never look to economics or class. No, that problem is too big. And so it is the immediate surrounds which are to blame.
Knowable because they rage online, in person, to friends, to family. Their rage comes in the form of fists, of Facebook posts, of picketing in the streets. They cannot be silent. Whatever grievance they have must be heard, tediously stretching out across the decades that make up their miserable lives.
Women rage, too, but they have the modesty to remain quiet about it.
In Derek Maine’s Pontoon Boat is in the Front Yard, the rage comes via a message sent from father to son. The son is 16, and his life has been hard. But this story is not about him. No, instead it is about the father and his wife, ex-wife, the woman for whom his rage knows no bounds. He airs his grievances to his son in explicit, detailed form, ostensibly wrapping them around the errors of the step-father, but this is not the entire truth. The father’s rage reaches back to when she was young, at school, and extends forward to now and into the future. This is a rage that will never be loosened.
The step-father, we learn, abuses the teenager, and at the end of the communication the father provides an answer to his son. A gun, in the boat. One squeeze of the trigger and the problems are over. I note grimly that here the father offloads the responsibility of solving his son’s horrific problems to the child himself. He will not pull the trigger – he will simply rage.
To his small credit, the father offers up a list of his own flaws, including that of violence against the mother. But this list is used as a method of showing that he isn’t as bad as the others.
In truth they are all rotten. Perhaps the son is not, but everyone else is a dark planet orbiting a fallen star.
Maine’s language is loose, and crude, and a touch too-heavy on the swearing. Just a touch. This message, however it is being communicated, is one of speech, streaming directly from the narrator in an out-pouring of anger. This works, the character is believable, but the length of the short piece is just about as long as I’d like to spend inside his mind. It’s exhaustive, and imagine living like that?
There are some shining bright spots. Twice, the narrator mentions spending time with his son, and here the tone is pleasant, even kind. It’s a nice balance, and shows that no matter how these men might hate the world, what they love, they love.
This strikes me as a very American story. This is not a criticism or a commendation. The ending involves violence, or at least, encouraging violence, and in a manner that I, as an Australia, perceive as close to uniquely American. The answer provided is not to run away, or change, or engage the authorities – it is violence. Violence, violence, violence.
The rage continues, the generations feed on one another, and in twenty years time this teenage boy will be saying something much the same to his own son, likely from jail, unquestionably full of his own inherited anger.