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You & Me

by Padgett Powell

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


You & Me by Padgett Powell
© HarperCollins
HarperCollins, 2012

Imagine that you are sitting on your front porch talking with your best friend day after day. You are in turn, funny, profane, philosophical, inane, focused-sometimes all in the course of one conversation. Your talk turns on a word or a phrase from one thing to another. In sum, it may mean absolutely nothing, especially to an outsider; however, it means everything in the moment to the two of you. And, you probably cannot remember what you said the next day.

Such is the scenario that Padgett Powell has constructed for his latest examination of the human psyche. Two old men sit on their front porch "Somewhere between Bakersfield, California, and Jacksonville, Florida... in a not upscale neighborhood." A liquor store is nearby and the parade of life passes by them, but it does not bypass them. As seen through their witty, irreverent, and perspicacious badinage, they have an opinion on every thing, no matter how inconsequential. The world has changed and not always for the better.

They talk of big ideas and nothing. Blockbuster videos make an appearance and there is a brief discussion as to how to pull socks onto one's feet, not roll them up. They agree that nothing matters. Then, it does not matter than nothing matters. A conversation begins by expressing a desire to go to a yard sale. One hopes they have kittens for sale which segues into having kittens in one box and possums in another. Then, "I wonder if what you are talking about is the kind of lunacy that inspires a man to run for president, when it's at the other end of the spectrum of affluence." People acquire things so that others cannot. "The poor kleptos go to yard sales, the rich run for president, out of the same impulse. Just hat up, de Tocqueville. That fishing line calls me."
These two old curmudgeonly raconteurs have a story for everything; the store is unending and always repeatable. As my son would say, "That's story number 39A, Dad." Which reminds me: Powell's two old men bring up Jayne Mansfield to whom I have the thinnest of connections. When I was a freshman in college, she was named honorary housemother of my dorm. She actually came for a visit and big celebration and I was among the lucky few who managed to get within a couple of feet of her. What is the point of this story? Does there have to be one?

The speakers ask, "Why do we talk?" If they do not talk, "we do nothing, are nothing. Well, given how little we talk about, we are next to nothing already." But, the two old men ruminate and philosophize on nearly everything. They advocate gassing spectators at golf matches who shout "In the hole!" as soon as the ball is struck. Those who drive using a cell phone should be entered into a demolition derby with little hope of surviving.

You & Me is an entertaining, thought-provoking read. It raises important questions in the guise of repeated, seemingly inane and often funny pronouncements. Think of a conversation and its peripatetic nature, how it ebbs and flows, how one word causes it to veer onto a new tack, then another word changes the direction. Although there is never really a "course" plotted out, the wind of conversation blows one here and there willy nilly. Powell's ear for real conversation is right on target and is not to be missed.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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