By: D.W. Hunt
Reviewed by: Van Newell
Livingston Press, 2007
D.W. Hunt’s novel The White Squirrel is the first piece of narrative fiction I have ever read that is reminiscent of a Roger Corman film. The book feels low-budget, salacious, campy, and eventually macabre. Martin Lucius King is an eighteen-year-old who attends an expensive prep school south of Birmingham, waffling between being a horny teenager and a whiny complainer. He lives in fear of his father, prominent Birmingham lawyer Joseph King Junior, who has aspirations for the governor’s mansion and (in between his assaults of his son) that Martin attend the University of Alabama like his father and grandfather, also a prominent Birmingham lawyer with political connections.
It is certainly no crime and in fact it can be quite an asset in a novel to have an unlikable protagonist, Ignatius J. Reily in A Confederacy of Dunces or Maurice Bendrix in The End of the Affair, for example; however, in those cases the author was in on it. People are too nice and giving to Martin for no good or conscious reason and Martin himself, as he scores free alcohol and sexual encounters, fails to appreciate that he has done nothing to receive these graces.
While the first two hundred pages or so move slowly (Places and settings are explained and over-explained at the cost of delaying the narrative arc), things become much more interesting for the last hundred pages and like a Corman film, the big budget effects are spent there. Now there at the university, Martin slowly displays symptoms of mental illness as he cohabitates with an older black prostitute and becomes a self-proclaimed prophet managing to finagle adherents from the campus.
The first two hundred pages feel Great Santini-esque and almost seem like a different novel from the last third. Were it not for the sexual coarseness, the first part of the novel could easily be understood as a young adult novel, while the strength of the book, the last third that is, could be reconstrued as a thriller of a college student losing his mind.
Again like Corman, there is a strange unconscious misogyny going on. Except for his mother, Martin refers at some point to almost every woman or girl, regardless of temperament or attitude, in the novel as a “bitch.” Even odder is the interracial sexual dialogue between Martin and his lover, Latrissa.
The book ends too neatly and on-the-nose to avert any suspension of disbelief. But if you like Corman, you’ll enjoy The White Squirrel.
Van Newell lives in Birmingham where he writes, produces, and directs music videos and commercials.