John Welter •
I Want to Buy a Vowel •
The world needs more books by John Welter. His novels, rich in comedy and compassion, turn the familiar on its ear to deliver a wholly unexpected and cheering viewpoint.
Eva and Ava, the daughters of an Episcopal priest, befriend an illegal alien who has walked to Texas from Guatemala and is hiding in a shack in the woods. Alfredo arrives speaking only Spanish, but soon adds two new languages to his repertoire: Chinese, which he picks up while washing dishes at the restaurant Ava calls the Human Palace, and Mayberry, learned from reruns of The Andy Griffith Show on the jail’s TV—because jail is where Alfredo lands when it’s discovered that he has no green card. The two little girls don’t see how a person can be illegal, and they intend to do something about it.
Meanwhile, a teenage neighbor decides to take up satanism. But Kenlow’s blood sacrifices never get any scarier than Vienna sausages, and the pentagrams he draws with yellow spray paint look like something out of Better Homes and Gargoyles, according to a police detective.
Welter brings great warmth to individual characters, but he’s merciless in poking fun at society and institutions. Scene after scene will have you laughing out loud. Asked by an INS agent if he has any illegals to “dispose of,” the police chief retorts, “I like to recycle all my illegals.” Eva addresses her prayers not to God but to Ted Williams, who once hit .406 in a single season even if he couldn’t walk on water. At a town meeting, Alfredo stands up to declare, “My broker is E.F. Hutton” and “For sinus, try Sinex.”
And when Eva announces dramatically, “I have ennui,” Ava pipes up, “Can I have some too?”