Rudy Wilson - Sentences that take hold of the brain and seize it up, unhinge us from the world around us, and make the body do some fucked-up pogo

Rudy Wilson, The Red Truck (Knopf, 1987)

"Wilson's daring but overly ambitious first novel is written in the voices of Billy-Billy Jump and Teddianne Sayers, two mentally scarred protagonists who, through reincarnation, have connected with each other in several violence-fraught lifetimes. They share a keen love of Christ; Teddianne envisions Christ, who also "goes on forever,'' as a red truck. Staccato sentences often evoke powerful images and emotions, such as Billy-Billy's description of his near-death by suffocation inside a locked refrigerator at age seven, an incident that claimed his brother's life. But many teasing paragraphs withhold their secrets from the reader who can only wonder what to make of the convoluted concepts: "Then the yellow started coming... There were hundreds of yellows... I put back my head and opened my mouth to let some out. Then I saw how yellows weren't yellow at all, but were made out of no-color, then only later they changed to become their colorness, yellow.'' Even those who share the author's powerful belief in the transmigration of souls may need a road map to follow Billy-Billy and Teddianne through their various mutations." - Publishers Weekly

"Wilson makes his debut as a novelist with a disturbing tale of religion, death, and reincarnation that upon first reading may seem plotless and purposely bizarre. Upon reflection, however, the intricacies of the lives of its protagonists becomes clear. Billy-Billy Jump and Teddianne are two unusual children whose experience of death at an early age bring them together as adults. Wilson skillfully intertwines their present with their past lives through the use of recurrent symbols. This novel is not for those seeking light fiction, and a second reading may be required to fully appreciate this short but painstakingly executed novel, but many will enjoy Wilson's wild flight of imagination." - Mary L. Kirk

"The Red Truck is one of those late-80s Knopf books edited by Lish that I found remaindered one day in some TV appliance-warehouse-turned-bookshop that is now a place that sells tires. I took it home and immediately could feel the sensation of something new running through my hands. I think it’s a brilliant book, a one of a kind book, a book that wouldn’t have been made into a book had it not found its way into Gordon’s hands. I think the story goes behind it that Lish cut the manuscript in half (sort of what he did to Barry Hannah’s revved up Ray). I suspect what Lish did was find the core of Rudy’s Red Truck and cut away much of what a much younger Wilson thought was needed to hold the story together. For me it’s a novel that is pure hallucination and is the kind of book that I return to again and again in order to recapture that initial rush that language in its purest, most musical form can offer to us. Each time that I do Rudy’s sentences unglue me and then put me back together in new ways. I let my sister read The Red Truck, some years ago, and when she did she ended up having a major seizure. The effect that the book had on my sis is what we all want from our work: sentences that take hold of the brain and seize it up, unhinge us from the world around us, and make the body of us do some fucked-up sort of pogo to a music that Wilson’s song makes us hear inside our own heads. The Red Truck by Rudy Wilson is the realest of deals." - Peter Markus

"Whether or not it's meant as a conscious allusion, the title of Rudy Wilson's novel 'The Red Truck' instantly recalls William Carlos Williams's poem ''The Red Wheelbarrow,'' and in doing so, it signals some of the interests shared by this first-time novelist and the poet: a painterly use of color; a reliance on strong, often fragmentary images, and a fascination with syntax and diction.
Williams once said that when someone makes a poem, he takes words from the world about him, composing them ''into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses''; and a similar impulse appears to inform Mr. Wilson's book. It's less a novel in any conventional sense than a long prose poem told largely from the point of view of two visionary children, named Billy-Billy Jump and Teddianne Sayers, who speak to us bizarrely in a manner all their own. In the course of the story, both of them grow to adulthood, but they retain a heightened, idiot-savantlike perspective, and this condition not only colors their off-kilter perceptions but also twists their language into musical contortions. Billy-Billy Jump, for instance, conjures up the summers of his boyhood like this: ''We had thunderstorms that smelled metal-gray in the summertime. I used to stand near the kitchen window at the double porcelain sinks and watch as the wind blew in my face. My mind carried with the wind, going to places in myself, and outside, around the town.''
And Teddianne recreates a dream about her childhood like this: ''The sun was shining on something. First, I just enjoyed the light, then, inside the light, was a place, famliar, swinging. It was the old tire swing from my front yard. I was on it, high up, then I saw faces.''
If Mr. Wilson's two characters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on their pasts, it's probably because they both suffered severe shocks as children. Billy-Billy nearly suffocated inside an icebox, and Teddianne survived a bad car wreck that killed several of her friends - and those traumas have somehow damaged their capacity for ordinary life. At once preternaturally innocent and sophisticated beyond their years, Teddianne and Billy-Billy live almost entirely within themselves, watching the world, absorbing its information and somehow reconstituting it all in their own imaginations.
Take, for instance, Billy-Billy's childhood hobby of making maps out of flour and salt - maps meant to represent and reconfigure the world. ''I talked to myself,'' he says. ''I made the maps. The room filled up with geography and color. I felt the heat and the cold and the wind blowing on my landscape; the deserts, mountain passes, valleys, the moss on the trees hanging in the south, the beaches and the grains of sand, each one separate. My mind became like that - tiny, then large.''
Though Billy-Billy and Teddianne have grown up miles and miles from each other in small, isolated Southern towns, the lines of their lives inexorably converge - largely, we are led to believe, through the workings of their unconscious minds. Billy-Billy, in fact, comes to believe that he has imagined Teddianne - dreamed her and created her in the image of his alter ego; and Teddianne begins to feel a similar sense of mystical communion with him.
In the course of learning the story of Billy-Billy and Teddianne's courtship, the reader is treated to many violent scenes - a lot of it fairly standard-issue Southern gothic stuff but served up with hallucinatory strangeness. Billy-Billy kills a dog (''He had split open too easily, like he was expecting it. All his colors came out''). A man sets his dead wife on fire (''He speared her on a long pole, and held her, burning above his head''). Teddianne's brother falls out of a tree and dies (''floating as he fell with his arms stretched wide and a towel flapping behind him''). And her sister gives birth to a deformed child (''that big, dying baby coming up out of her swamp of fears, all of them coming true'').
Mr. Wilson clearly possesses an ear for incantatory prose as well as a gift for delineating the dark shadows cast by ordinary people and things. Indeed, there are moments when we become so entranced by his story that the real world drops away and we find ourselves sharing, momentarily, Billy-Billy and Teddianne's hermetic reality.
For much of 'The Red Truck,' that reality remains vaguely anchored in recognizable facts and emotions: both children survive various family tragedies, Billy-Billy spends several years in jail, he's rehabilitated by Teddianne, he takes her back to his home town, they declare their passion for one another, etc. Informing these events, however, is a decidedly mystical subtext - Billy-Billy starts to believe that Teddianne is really Christ, while Teddianne has a vision in which Christ appears to her as a red truck. Meanwhile, it is implied that both of them have actually lived previous lives - that they are reincarnations of people who witnessed the Civil War. They start saying things like, ''There's a Jesus cloud above this town,'' and, ''We all proceed along paths we create for ourselves.''
Not only does much of this sound like ill-thought-out mumbo-jumbo, but it also points up a tendency toward pretension and empty mannerism in Mr. Wilson's writing. When he moves too far into such areas, our credulity is strained, and as a result, the delicate tissue of images, sounds and perceptions he's worked so carefully to create is seriously endangered." - Michiko Kakutani

Two excerpts:

“I remembered a day with my father and Ned and me, a day in the park where the white ducks walked in their green grass. We walked up near the merry-go-round. Ned and I had new crewcuts and new sunglasses. The ducks were so white. They crawled with orange feet and the sky was blue. That morning we made a record for my mother in a studio. My dad held me up to the sun. He looked at me. The bright yellow was blocked by my new round head. He looked at my face. He held me.”

“When Mama K died, the things in her pale room had a new line of silence around them. I felt smaller and colder in there. I lay on her bed and cried. The tears went into the white cotton bumps on her bedspread.
I sat up and watched my face get red and funny-looking in the mirror. The room was so still, and quiet, everything in its place but her. Mama K was up in the cemetery with Ned. I saw tears coming from my tiny-looking eyes that looked darker now. They were hot and my eyelashes got thick, and stuck together. Then there was a fist in my chest. It beat out at me. I squeezed my chest trying to get more air in, to smooth the cries I heard coming out. I gasped out; I moved up and down on Mama K’s bed. My feet barely touched the floor. I bounced, I got light-headed. I bounced harder, and screamed, “Mama K! Mama K!” I bent my neck back and saw the big spots on the old pink ceiling. Now they scared me. They were so cold. They were killers. Then they were just dirty spread-out stains on an old dead woman’s ceiling. I screamed and screamed. I bounced higher toward them and it was hard, very hard, to catch my breath.”

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