Mariel's Reviews > Citrus County

Citrus County by John Brandon
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Sep 10, 11

Recommended to Mariel by: Florida swamps that have forgotten their fireflies
Recommended for: Citrus County, lock up your little girls
Read in August, 2011

I wish that I had read the same book that other members on goodreads read. I don't come from this place. I don't live in Citrus County. I want to live different places, know different people. I want to tell myself about stuff that happened and people that the things happened to. It doesn't have to be a mantra, maybe a sign of life or a reminder to feel something I'd forgotten. I want to sing along, you know? Some company would be really nice. I find that I can let myself go if I'm not the only one doing it. Being alone feels like when the song ends prematurely and you are surprised by the sound of your own voice. The record kept stopping. Citrus County didn't exist. Toby, Shelby and Mr. Hibma did not exist. No one was here. The Citrus County that Toby, Shelby and Mr. Hibma don't live in is where they can't see others living. People they don't want to be. If they had LOOKED at those people and that place.... Something deeper. Something to listen to again and longer than three minutes. I sigh alone.

I really want to describe the writing as unnecessary narrating in a Woody Allen film (one of his not that good films). You wish there was a good actor who would show you what the writer is saying they are feeling. The big feelings like title cards in a silent film. Fear! Sadness! Glee! You wish the voice would shut up and let you live the damned thing, in nuance and with hope. But you can't see them. None of it means that much. She wishes he was a star. He wishes the world revolved around him. Her world revolves around her. The voice sounds nebbish like that guy they later added to The West Wing. Kinda glib but without the spark it used to have. I really want to say I didn't feel anything.

I have lived practically right next door to the real Citrus County. (One thing this book got right is that towns I've lived in were mentioned only in connection to athletics. Soooo Florida. Locations of Tarzan and Elvis movies? Check.) I may as well have lived in Citrus County for how much the same those backwoods Florida places are. Hicks with meth labs, sunsets, sunrises, manatees, cults, animal cruelty, missing kids, sunshine, mosquitoes, sports, great produce. The characters in this book talk about movie set Florida of beaches, condos, theme parks. (When in Spain I was told that Florida brought forth images of rollerblading to Enrique Iglesias's horny pleading. That would be hell! It has to be hell.) Do I feel close to any of those things? Not really. Tarzan and Elvis movie sets. I've also made those observations a long damned time ago. It has ceased to mean anything to me. "Junior high school kids can be cruel." Yes, I've known that. Which kids? Who? Why? Where? I don't care about pushy religious people with wacky music (kind of an easy target, aren't they? What does it mean other than a person to be annoyed with for a minute?). I'm suspicious of anything that credits too much of the person to a place. Places are for feeling close to, I think. There's no place like home, right? Home can be somewhere else. If that's the connector then what is it connecting? In theory that's people... If you are afraid you are afraid of the people. I'll read a book set in a place and my affection grows because something alive happened there. From them to me. I might feel foreboding. I shouldn't feel contained. Writing on benches "I was here" and footprints the wind won't blow away. That's what I want more than just about anything. It's a kind of home and family to make up and carry around. It couldn't only happen in one place.

Brandon's characters wear their tastes like t-shirts to stand in line at the latest big thing. Yes, it's cool that fourteen year old Shelby knows all about Bill Hicks (me too). It would have meant much more to me if I knew if her comedians and Jewish authors grounded her in other places, to other people. Why did she like them? Why did she want to live some place glamorous, other than bragging rights? I just felt like Brandon was giving his taste to his characters. Look at what I like! It's the easy stuff like glancing over a group and sitting next to the person you would rather identify with. Cool criminals and sassy girls. Bright lights, big city. I'd rather see what the audience eyes looked like than who is on stage.

If a journalist had disliked John Brandon from way back when and wrote an article about what an asshole he was he would probably be as big of a joke as Dave Eggers is. Quiz time: Is this twee to you? Because it is really fucking twee to me. Dave Eggers and Brandon could rub the leather elbows of their tweed coats at McSweeney's mixers. I don't get why Eggers is precious and Brandon isn't. Someone please explain that to me (my theory is journalists for now). I don't hate Eggers myself. I find it curious the way the tide turned against him and Safran Foer. Why not Brandon? He's no different. (I like Foer considerably more than either Brandon or Eggers. I felt something less obvious.)
Shelby had been enjoying a dream about gangs of sly otters who could convince women to do anything. But then she smelled something and the otters were gone. It was morning. There'd been a scent in the dream, but not a savory one. There'd been the scent of wet eyelashes. I blushed when I read passages like that one. Some were good, written to delight (maybe too much to delight. The whole cute thing), others read like an author who had a massive crush on his own characters and took for granted that they came out as cute on paper as they did in his mind. You are skipping the steps like breathing and getting up out of bed and going straight to saving deserts (desserts) for old age. Sure, it's kinda cute that Shelby has stuff like that. Dream big and I'll listen if I have any idea who the hell you are and what it has to do with anything.

I don't understand the rage about being stuck in life directed at someone else. When driving late at night and a fat woman in a house dress waddles across the road (this happens pretty much any time I ever drive at night) without a care about blind spots or anything I don't feel better about myself (I have images of life in prison for accidentally killing her). Mr. Hibma was foreign to me. He should not have been. I understand the feeling of everything coming to you because you can't move yourself to step out of the way of fate (life suckage like how you can be more conscious of a paper cut than a larger wound). But no, I felt like when I watched either versions of The Office. Tim/Jim's misplaced frustration towards their irritating coworkers. I don't feel better about myself because of what anyone else is doing. There must be some club of guys who feel like they have to do something if someone is too fat or doesn't know the presidents on Mt. Rushmore. They might feel a grim satisfaction in superiority that they know those things when knowing those things never did a thing for anyone. I feel no attachment to that at all. I wouldn't give Mr. Hibma another glance of sympathy. He can zip up his pants and have trouble jerking off somewhere else. Those are the kinds of observations that put me no where. I don't want it. If this book was about making something happen should there not have been a bigger connection than targets who didn't mean that much, like toes in too small sandals or religious girls? Talk about avoiding the point. But you don't need to, I guess, if you just SAY they feel those things... Too easy. I don't trust it. Easy representation instead of making a story out of something that stands out from the void.

It didn't help that Mr. Hibma's story is the same story of Toby in part one. Part three is the same as part one and part two. Something would happen if they did something bad. Talking about something happening. Talking about how they would feel if they were trying to write something deep on a post card. They are the serial killers who get caught because they can't keep quiet about the credit they are not getting. I understand wanting something to happen. They weren't anywhere. Then Toby would feel he wanted to be somewhere. Mr. Hibma would think that he was either the real him or the fake him. This was based on fantasies. Where were these fantasies taking place? The cure was the disease that was the cure. Or the disease. I felt nothing either way. (I hate feeling that way. My stomach is twisted in emptiness thinking about this book.)

I don't care about credit and I don't care about heroes. Shelby, Toby and Mr. Hibma are not heroes. Nothing is going to happen from a big gesture. Something small would happen like that paper cut if there had been any effort in the direction of closeness. There should have been closeness. I felt a lot, "Gee, this probably sounded oh so cute to the author." That's about it. I wasted time in Citrus County where I didn't know a soul. No stories to feel as if anything was happening. Not one other voice. Not even jumping into the void but waiting for it to come to you (with time to dress for it. Cutely).

Citrus County is an apathetic book about the fight against apathy. Maybe that was intentional. I don't feel so because of all the cutesiness. I wish I had felt ANYTHING other than apathy. This wasn't the book for me. I can't live with apathy. I want people and places and closeness. I don't need to read this to figure that a girl who loses her mom to death and a sister to kidnapping would be angry. Or that a kid beat up by his uncle would feel there wasn't any point. Or that a teacher who can't make a choice would fantasize about irrevocable choices. Okay, that's obvious. That's not the whole story! But it was. Fucking surface of things. Please don't get up.

A real life story of mine about a juvenile delinquent:
I was living in one of those orange towns close to Tampa and St. Pete. My apartment complex was cheap and mostly teenagers like myself. My neighbors were a mom and her young son (probably about fifteen). I talked to the son and his mom ONCE (my doberman had been in a fight with a cat. The cat had it coming for some time. I guess I made an impression the way I tenderly wiped the blood off of Sanchez. "Oh, it's not his blood," I said). The cops were over a lot and sometimes I'd hear the mom crying into the night through those thin walls. So one night, totally out of nowhere, the mom pounds on my door and tries to come inside. She keeps insisting that I was dating her son and hiding him in my apartment. I probably said something like, "I don't date kids. Back off, lady!"

Mostly the drugged up kids thought I was hilarious and laughed over every thing I said. I was a reject unless people were high (hey, that's a lot like now. Sobs). There was the time when a Mexican migrant worker tried to solicit me for prostitution (not counting yelling from cars like "Five bucks for a hand job!" Rural Florida ain't pretty). Does any of this make anyone feel closer to me, or Florida? I don't. (The tears made me sad. She was controlling. It's a glimpse where I was a bystander. The story was theirs. Just like Citrus County was theirs and not Shelby, Toby or Mr. Hibma's. Not even a glimpse!) I feel closer to me remembering reading Salinger and listening to John Frusciante. Those names could mean nothing at all to someone who might one day read this review. If you know what it feels like to hope that there are other people who give a shit then you might remember feeling the same way about somebody else. That's all I ever want. The effort to keep on going with any means necessary because there might be someone else to know. Not writing off people and feeling better than the kid I knew who damaged his brains huffing paint. There's no saying it'll ever happen for good. I wish I had felt that Citrus County was about that feeling. I think it wanted to be. I didn't feel it because it didn't come from any place and it didn't go any place. It was no place. I've repeated myself a lot in this review. I keep coming back to apathy. It's the worst!

I might be more needy than most. I don't know. All I know is that I watch people a lot and look for any sign of life. Some place to live. Where it comes from and where it might be going. What do you want?

P.s. I did like when Shelby's aunt gives her the stitch. It was a hope for a connection. Just the hope. That's enough. It isn't cliche to want a family. If you want to be different please tell me why (the bad boy thing, although it's not different). What's missing? I'll take the hope, for now. It was a fantasy relationship instead of a real one with her dad. That should have been more important... At least there was hope. Still representation (artistic aunt with a swank lifestyle). Why did they have to represent otherness for her to try? Why wasn't what she had good enough? Saying she liked different was not as good as looking at the reason. Better yet, show it instead of saying it a bunch of times.
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Nancy This comment seems longer than the book.


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