Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Spring 2004

God Clobbers Us All by Poe Ballantine

God Clobbers Us All
Poe Ballantine
Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts
Portland, OR
191 pp. $15.95


Poe Ballantine's debut novel, God Clobbers Us All, bears many of the strengths of his earlier short story collection, Things I like About America: rounded human characters; subtle yet interesting plot points; and stimulating, evocative situations and posits, both on emotional and philosophical levels. Unfortunately, it also carries some of the usual weaknesses of the dreaded first first-person novel: weak or excessive adverb use; strings of unnecessary adjectives making for crammed sentences; muscular (occasionally bordering on ridiculous) metaphor. In the introductory chapters of God Clobbers, both the first person narrator and the time frame cry out to be established with a firmer hand (though both do become clear eventually through ongoing interaction and dialogue). These are the typical errors of fresh, idealistic excess, of a writer intoxicated with the possibilities of language. (I'm practically the poster child for this type of excess so I know whereof I speak.)

Though I can't say for sure that such is the case, I would guess that Ballantine started work on an earlier version of this novel many years prior to his work on the stories that make up his story collection—the difference in sentence structure is marked.

However, despite the excesses of writerly youth, God Clobbers Us All manages to pull through and succeed on the strength of its characterization and Ballantine's appreciation for the true-life denizens of the Lemon Acres rest home. The gritty daily details of occupants of a home for the dying have a stark vibrancy that cannot help but grab one's attention, and the off-hours drug, surf, and screw obsessions of the young narrator, Edgar Donahoe, and his coworkers have a genuine sheen that captivates almost as effectively. Donahoe does come off as precocious and is given to bouts of punning and other bad, wacky humor (he IS eighteen), but this is counterbalanced for the most part by a deeper wit and Ballantine's talent for deft and veritable dialogue. The other characters also irritate now and then with their broader-than-broad broadsides and wisecracks. Truthfully, much of this humor would have you in stitches were you to hear it in casual company, but in the context of a warm, raw, and ruminative tale of an eighteen-year-old coming of age as an orderly in an elder care facility, it comes off as glib banter that should have been scaled back a few notches.    

Late in the book, the young narrator admits “I am a screw-up but I care about people. I number this, along with making wild crap up, as one of my few great gifts.” This is a fair appraisal of Ballantine's strength as a writer. His portraits, while accurate and genuine, are generous, showing an appreciation for souls stuck in the most menial occupations and the most desperate positions. While God Clobbers Us All does show the occasional eruptive lesion of youth, by and large it works well enough for us to recommend it. However, we're much more interested in a future Ballantine work that will leave behind the relative shallowness of youth and steer towards deeper waters.