The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury

The End of Vandalism

endofvandalismIf the ordinary is a fit subject for art, then this is fine art. The End of Vandalism is a novel about ordinary people doing ordinary things – what marks it out is not its subject but its style, which is stunning. Think, therefore, not of a soap opera and more of the painter Brueghel, with his images of villagers skating on ice and of horses scratching their arses on trees. The book is a series of exquisite pictures of daily events. It wouldn’t be true to say that nothing much happens – we have a marriage breakdown, a wedding, a stillbirth, an election, a snowstorm. But nothing is overdramatized; life happens as it happens to us all. It’s the stark accuracy of observation that is most striking about Drury’s style; quiet, even in a book littered with lines like: ‘The church June had directed him to was bunkerlike and modern, with a giant cross that seemed to challenge rather than court the stars.’ The character we observe here is called Tiny, a thief and loser, who, seeing a vacuum cleaner standing in the church aisle, vacuums the carpet and then steals a silver pitcher. We understand all of Drury’s characters through their quietly-expressed, odd yet totally believable actions.

That Drury was a small-town journalist explains a lot. The End of Vandalism is a patchwork of the sort of stories that you typically find in a local newspaper anywhere in the world: businesses closing, school plays, splashes of graffiti. If the book has a weakness it is a certain lack of harmony and narrative arc. It’s filled with a lot of characters, and in the first few pages it feels like a few too many, though a testament to the book’s mastery is by the end you know them all and care for them all, too.

A profoundly gentle masterpiece.

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