I recently finished reading ‘No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again’ by Edgardo Vega Yunque’. And boy howdy, it was long, and in some ways it had way too many words. I personally am a fan of writing that is more concise than this particular book ever came close to, but that aside, I trudged my way through and found that I got something pretty interesting by the time I got out the other side.
On reading the Author’s Note that appeared at the end of the book, I did that comical forehead slap- duh. If I’d only read that first. . . . Why it’s buried at the end, I don’t think I’ll ever understand, since the whole point of the note seemed to be to get the reader to understand what the author was trying to do in terms of the form of the book. He was trying to evoke the meandering beauty of both Murals and Jazz- specifically highly improvisational Jazz. If I’d known that going in, I would have enjoyed the book far more, since I would have know that the details were the plot and not just distractions from the plot (as they seemed to be for the first half to three quarters of the book).
So, what did I get from this book, once I got past the style? Well, Yunque’ was trying to say something about race in America, also about gender inequities, and about how both of those things figure into the way that families are broken down- most especially how they break down when the father figure is out of the picture. I’d say that it’s about how minority fathers being missing from their families brings whole cultures within this country down because the women just can’t do it alone, except in the novel, this issue isn’t restricted to the minority characters and families. The fact is, the white fathers in this tale all leave their wives and children, as well. The small difference being that they seem to do it less physically and more emotionally. And, the family in the book- yes, by the time the story finished, just about every character in the book is family in one way or the other, even if they don’t know it, since there are several interracial marriages/romances and other connections are found by going back several generations- the family in the book is a jumble of all types of cultures and races (a mirroring of the whole Jazz/Mural meandering thing that is meant to speak of the melting pot that is this country). So, what the author seems to be saying is that these issues of family and inequality are everyone’s problem, everyone’s issues- even if we don’t know it. Because, you never can tell who is really kin to whom- and somehow, here in this country that mixes all the world’s cultures, we are all a family or we are all doomed.
This is not a new idea- it’s the idea I was raised with when it came to race (thanks to my amazing parents). It’s an idea that has in some ways lost out to some other ideas about race and the value of different cultures, even as they are integrated into the larger whole of America. It was good to find that confirmed by this novel.
What I understood, but found I really didn’t like about this novel far more than the wordiness (that I can now get a handle on with the perspective given by the Author’s Note) is the use of sex as a metaphor for the family. So many characters in the book make terrible choices about sex, and I’m not saying that that’s unrealistic, but the graphic descriptions of violent sexual encounters include rape, abuse of minors/mentally handicapped characters, bestiality, mutilation, and finally murder. And, yeah, I get that horrible things like that happen, but the extent of their use in this novel seemed to go too far.
So, would I recommend this book? Yes, but it’s not for the squeamish, it’s not for those who would be put off by the use of profanity (because there’s a lot of that in there as well) and it’s not for those looking for an easy read. It is, however an interesting tale that has a lot to say about where we are right now in this country and where we need to go.