What the Fuck is Going On?: A Review of Meg Tuite’s “White Van”

At some point between co-hosting April’s FBomb flash fiction reading at its new venue, The Roxy, and listening to me ramble Jack-n-Coke-ally on about Pinyon Jays later at her hotel bar, Meg Tuite, Santa Fe editor, poet, and flash-fictioneer, whose work has, according to her website, remarkably appeared “in over 600 literary magazines,” handed me an on-the-house copy of her new book White Van. I like Meg, her wildwoman spirit and the freewheeling gravitas she and fellow flash-fiction heavyweight Robert Vaughan brought to hosting the FBomb. And the gesture seemed deserving of a little review once I got around to reading it. So here goes: 

White Van, a 106 page paperback released in March 2022 by New Orleans’ publisher Unlikely Books, is a collection of short pieces written in Meg’s unique brand of prose-poetry, centered around the theme of violence against women. 

You might not make it much further than the first paragraph, with such abstract descriptions as “men were watching porn on the Sabbath and nautical calendars were getting sloshed,” before thinking, this is gonna be one of those books where I don’t know what the fuck is going on, isn’t it? 

In fact, before you even get to the first page you might thrown off cuz the van on the cover isn’t white at all. It’s actually very black with some kind of Emperor Palpatine electric Force-bolts surrounding it. If white vans aren’t actually white in this book, what are we to make of anything? This sets a tone of White Van keeping the reader consistently off-balance (tho importantly never feeling the author is without method-to-madness).

Basically, Meg chooses to do battle with trauma, injustice, and the inherent cruelty of the world with an arsenal of pure language. This is a work more interested in the lyricism of criminality, the lexicon of desperation, and the poetry of bruises than audience-comforting elements such as narrative cohesion or conflict resolution, which might have felt more toothless and unfitting. Perhaps it’s because violence can never feel authentically cohesive; there’s a part which will never make logical sense or suspend your disbelief, so why even bother? 

For me, reading through at times felt like a Clockwork Orange-style reconditioning filmstrip. It soon became clear the author and I most likely in many ways have completely different backgrounds. I am a 1) dude who 2) grew up and still am relatively sheltered from the evils of the world, and 3) can go for days and maybe weeks without ever thinking about the act of rape, and 4) has unwittingly thought things before like – I envy women for being able to command so much attention with their looks. 

Meg, on the other hand, offers up the counterpoint of a world of dangerous men, full of abusers, kidnappers, killers, and, of course, rapists galore. It’s a world in which simply existing as a young woman is essentially a death-sentence. You might feel the urge to speculate to what extent this is autobiographical, but the more important point is that this probably speaks for far-too-many women who far-too-often hafta live in this kind of inescapable hell. In Meg’s words: “What you got littering your landscape? Every girl got something.” 

The work’s primary motif, the titular van, is as terrifying as the wolfman, or killer bees, or the fragmentation of memory after experiencing acute trauma. In the world of this book, a van cannot simply exist as a sensible option for suburban family grocery outings or a charming means for a plucky young rockband’s roadlife. In White Van whenever that hulking sliding-door monster pulls up you know there’s gonna be trouble, whether luring in unsuspecting naive females for a ‘good time’ or housing a daughter and her down-and-out, drug-hooked dad. The unstoppable van can even get you online where it doesn’t even need gasoline or inflated tires anymore. Not every van in this book is white, but somehow that’s the scariest color. 

Like the vans, the perspectives change, most often focused on a variety of different victims, but also sometimes from the victimizers themselves. Getting inside the head of a, say, peeping Tom tho seems to garner little sympathy, just another addition to a collage of brutality, misery, and hopelessness. 

These themes, paralleled by the disjointed chapters and intentionally inconsistent style and syntax (one unsettling piece is even written as a pantoum), might make you think about a reader’s endurance for this sort of thing – being left “lifeless in a sepia tone” for so long. What does it mean to stay with it til the end? For a man is it guilt, masochism, education? For a woman does it have something to do with White Van’s other significant motif –  the forest, where the bodies are buried, where at least “you’ll never find yourself alone” because it contains all the other victims?

Nevertheless, perhaps mainly due to Meg’s unquestionable artistic command, I made it through. By the final page, I still wasn’t sure if I knew what the fuck was going on, but it definitely made me feel what the fuck was going on, which is probably the more important result anyway.

If interested, here’s where you can get the book… https://www.unlikelystories.org/unlikely-books/white-van 

Listen to me read the review here…

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