I could dismiss Dillo on many grounds. It’s plotless. It’s sloppily edited. And the main character, world-weary, deeply cynical fifteen-year-old Stephen “Doc” Candy, is about the least convincing fifteen-year-old I’ve ever read. He’s like a seventy-year-old Sam Shepard playing Yossarian in a Catch-22 set in the American South.
But all that doesn’t matter. Because Dillo — the name comes from the narrator’s obsession with supersized roadkill on the rough macadams of sunblasted America — is a hell of a lot of fun.
The fun comes not so much from Doc or Don, his dirtbag dad, who picks up his son one day in New Mexico for “a few hours” and winds up hauling him across the grit-lit South on the run from someone bad over something bad Don did done. Don, who drinks, smokes, steals, stands up passably well in a showdown and screws anything that moves, is made up of familiar parts. Doc, in addition to his other old-soul qualities, happens to be a cocksman of the first rank right out of the gate in the tradition of the old man. Nice fantasy for any of us remembering our own fifteen-year-old-boy selves, but kind of eyeroll-inducing as well.
No, the true fun comes from the supporting characters; among them Agathe, the double-jointed teen circus freak who loves everyone and is loyal to no one; Darvon Love, the preacher’s son who drinks the dubious contents of Mason jars; and Big-Ass Brenda, whose attempts to conceal her orgasmic aftershock from her man lead to this wondrous passage:
It looked like she was getting tickled from the inside out by a thousand liquid feathers, her whole body, in her throat even, and her mouth was working into smiles she didn’t even know about. She shook gently like that for about half a minute.
And that’s the deal with Dillo, above all: it’s got a marvelously skewed way of seeing the world. I’d call it “literary” but it’s never that self-conscious. You never get the feeling that Max Sheridan polishes his prose after repeated passes through a college creative-writing workshop. What he writes seems to spring whole from his literary loins like … well, you know. There’s something organic and slightly mad-sciencey in Sheridan’s wild self-educated imagination, and what he creates from that wholly original sensibility are perfect little imperfect pleasure pellets of prose.
So I’ll simply share a few of my favorite passages, and see if you agree:
The waitress came with a pot of coffee. She wasn’t so bad to look at up close. At least Candy thought so. He might as well have been eying up a bundle of rebar with hips. The string of no-good men she’d gone through to get that edge she wore was beyond a stranger’s reckoning.
My face was tight with the screaming gone out of it, the air heavy with the Mexican’s loosened bowels and the big bowl of his blood spilled out of his head.
Even when we lived in God’s own country Don Candy never got out much. He liked barstools and motel ice machines. A man like him was happiest in the mornings, in a bed he might know for a week, watching cartoons while the rest of us went off to do things.
And my favorite, which might serve as back-jacket copy for Dillo:
When you see a college quarterback with tears in his eyes dedicating his Heisman trophy to his old man, who did nothing but beat on his ass until he could turn a crow on a telephone wire inside out with that pigskin, there’s a reason. Same reason you sometimes read about father-son teams hitting up 7-Elevens with their masks on backwards. Your flesh-and-blood father could run off for five whole years and when he comes back, and he puts you in the fro t seat of a flashy borrowed automobile, you’ll still be willing to listen to whatever monkey plans he’s hatched in his absence. You might even just follow him.
By now, you’ll know if Dillo is your jam. All I can say is that it sure as hell is mine. Dillo is kind of ridiculous. But I wasn’t bored by it for a millisecond.