The (metaphorically) long shadow of a massive landfill shapes the destiny of a young man in Bazzle’s bleakly comic debut.
Some people have an idea of their life’s goal from a young age. That’s the case here, as narrator Ben Shippers decides early on that he must destroy the massive pile of garbage located in the landfill beside his childhood home. After an early and failed attempt to burn the landfill down, Ben embarks on a host of quixotic projects to raise enough money to buy a flamethrower, in hopes that his future attempts will work. The landfill comes to stand in for many of the issues young Ben encounters, from his family’s economic problems to the decline of his parents’ marriage to the tensions that exist between his hometown of Komer and the nearby municipality of Haislip, two archetypal small American cities. Gradually, Ben’s assorted odd jobs temper his penchant for destruction—"I guess I had lost some of my terroristic spark, I’m ashamed to admit," he observes—and his friendship with Demarcus, son of a local bar owner, gives him a greater sense of community. The novel has an episodic feel, as Ben encounters an array of fellow students, potential employers, and local luminaries. Throughout, Bazzle chronicles the ways in which Ben’s early idealism erodes under more complex concerns. The novel’s tone is occasionally uneven: Bazzle’s observations on questions of race and class feel rooted in a social realism tradition, while other characters, like a long-winded local businessman and his father, a contentious figure nicknamed “Donkey Dan,” seem imported from a more broadly satirical work.
Bazzle’s novel explores the compromises one makes in life even as it blends the gritty and the extravagant along the way.