In Matt Phillips’ Redbone, Calvin G. Redbone washes cars down at the used car lot. His mornings start with coffee and maybe a splash of bourbon and a walk into work. Ten years, this has been Calvin’s life for ten years as he earns a little money for drinks at Speakeasy and spending some time with his good friend Mister which usually involved more drinking.
Calvin walked along the sidewalk for three miles through the town he called home his entire life. It wasn’t big, but it wasn’t small either. It was right in the middle, a damn mediocre place of mediocre people.
It wasn’t that Calvin thought himself better than anyone else, he knew he wasn’t, he was with his people, a product of his environment. His walks to and from work had him bear witness to the changes in his town, changes that some called progress and others, well, others could just shake their heads as progress moved along and didn’t give a damn. Whether it was a strip mall, “a flat-looking, beige set of buildings that contained a donut shop, a liquor store, a laundromat, an eerily successful Thai food restaurant and the office of Roscoe Childress, attorney-at-law” or out-of-business drive-in stuck between the progress of TJ Maxx and Walmart serving as “a reminder of another America – a reminder to Calvin about the years he spent here, in town, living careless and drunk and lost as every other small town kid.”
There is much that is right with Matt Phillips’ Redbone, but there were a few things that just seemed a bit askew: a found letter that Calvin reads but we don’t learn its contents for several chapters and Calvin always referring to a lawyer as “fucking divorce attorney prick”. Now, I don’t have a problem per se with that, I mean the guy was a fucking divorce attorney prick, but I wanted to know what this hatred was about and we didn’t find out till much later in the book. Small issues.
Like many Americans, Calvin exists from one day to another, his only goal is not to get any poorer than he already is. But as Redbone opens that all changes as Calvin’s life is not so much turned upside down, it is utterly vanquished. In Phillips’s story, Calvin turns against the complacency and boredom that has plagued him and embraces an anger fueled by alcohol and misery. I might have had a few problems with the book, but Phillips description of an America ravaged by capitalism and box stores is depressingly accurate and makes Redbone well-worth your time. Plus it’s a buck-fucking-fifty and probably cheaper than the beer your swilling right now, so go buy it.
Phillips’ new book, Accidental Outlaws, coming out in a few days on All Due Respect Books. While you’re buying Redbone, buy this one too.