Paltry Arguments Lead to Ugly Consequences:A review of The Proud & the Dumb by Bob Freville

Reviewed by Ian Reilly

The Proud & The Dumb
by Bob Freville
Godless Anti-Christmas/Godless Exclusives (godless.com).
Kindle, December 12, 2021, 42 pages

The role pettiness plays in domestic violence should not be underestimated. The paltry all too often leads to hostility that can have grave consequences. This is something we see on a not infrequent basisin today’s world, but it is usually handled with kid gloves by a news media more concerned with
sewing division than solving the issue of existing division; one might recall a fatal incident at a Bronx
bar wherein a man was shot in the head over whose turn it was in the restroom. These are the petty
misunderstandings that drive Bob Freville’s new novella The Proud and the Dumb.

Freville is an underground author-filmmaker and native New Yorker whose body of work tends toward
the bloody, insane and rather amusing. Of the six or more books he’s had published, three are listed as
out of print on various internet bookstores. His biggest claim to fame looks like it was a poorly
reviewed horror movie called Hemo that was released internationally by Troma, the company behind
cheesy shock-horror movies like The Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist. The Proud and the Dumb is
Freville’s latest offering, which was released in December as part of Godless Horrors’ Anti-Christmas
event.

Godless appears to be an innovative platform by which indie authors can have their books designed,
typeset, published, and promoted for a small percentage of what most industry professionals would
charge. One might be tempted to label it a vanity press, were it not for the simple fact that Godless does
not take money from authors to release and/or amplify their work. Rather, the platform offers
marginalized voices a place to expand their audience while earning the dominant amount of book
revenue.

A profile about Godless and its founder, Drew Stepek, recently appeared at Lit Reactor. The post in
question explores the evolution of publishing and how Stepek is taking a chance on bold new voices
with darker, shorter, riskier properties. The Proud and the Dumb certainly qualifies as such a release,
especially since it is less of a horror title and more of a political satire.

The book kicks off with a horrific scene of beating and mutilation, one in which we don’t know who the
victim is. Freville wisely keeps this bit a mystery until the conclusion of the story. The rather short
chapter or prologue ends with the narrator saying, “To think, all of this started over an argument about
cruciferous vegetables,” which may be one of the funniest lines of the year.

As funny as it is, this line is kind of the thesis on which the entire narrative hinges, because what the
author is doing is setting up a cruel joke in reverse, one where the line about cruciferous vegetables is
the punchline. In this way, Freville conveys the absurd frivolousness of the violence that transpires.
And there is violence, quite a lot of it for such a short book.

The Proud and the Dumb is either a long novelette or a short novella, I’m really not sure. The word
counts for each are similar after all. Despite its limited run time, so to say, The Proud and the Dumb
manages to make a number of important points about double standards, police brutality, racial
prejudice, societal ignorance and toxic masculinity.

The central character is a guy name Curry, although it’s hard to think of him as the leading character
since he spends most of of the story in a state of forced restraint. We don’t get much background on
him, which is just as well because the author seems to be using him as some kind of cipher. The more I
read, the more I started thinking of myself as Curry, which is likely the author’s intention. As a blank
slate you can draw all of your personal beliefs onto Curry. I imagine this will make The Proud and the
Dumb an easier pill for some people to swallow, especially those who it might (or might not) be about.
The story focuses on what happens when three friends from a white power group decide to confront
Curry about his behavior. After a hilarious dinner date exchange at a rundown diner seems to confirm
their suspicions, the three buddies strong arm Curry and drag him out to the large and, apparently,
vacant parking lot. Their intentions are not completely clear, but as you might suspect there is plenty of
male posturing about the deadly consequences of Curry’s new attitude.

It is worth stressing that Curry’s behavior has been mostly limited to being polite to one of the diner’s
servers and being overly excited about something he read on the website of a European news network.
As to his attitude, Curry only gets cross with his racist companion when his companion accuses him of
things without any logical basis.

The Proud and the Dumb is one of those stories that continues to escalate to the point of
outrageousness as its progresses. In this regarded it reminded me a lot of Your House Will Pay by Step
Cha, only instead of Korean-American or African-American conflict, you have these white trash
characters whose conflict is mostly ideological. The slow build of tension and the anticipation of an
explosion also reminded me of Cha’s superb 2019 novel.

The differences are, of course, extreme and the violence is very different, but the punch-in-the-gut
realism exists in both. Even while The Proud and the Dumb is being structurally witty or playfully
insane there is also a consistent undercurrent of dread and sadness. Like the greatest of comedians,
Freville seems to be the joker whose mask of laughter hides profound melancholy for the world of
2021. You see this melancholy reflected in the final section of the story, but there are hints of its
throughout.

If there is a secondary joke at play in Freville’s novella it is the notion that the guys executing a
vigilante-style interrogation can become the interrogated without realizing it. Equally amusing is the
brush that the author uses to paint his characters portraits: each of the small-town bigots portrayed in
The Proud and the Dumb has their own linguistic peculiarities and Freville conveys this through an odd
choice of phonetic writing reminiscent of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange. This is
appropriate considering the ultra-violence that punctuates the story, but Freville language is distinct
from the dialect of Burgess’s classic in its recognizable patterns.

Even though the story centers around these racist good old boys, Freville doesn’t resort to calling them
hillbillies or rednecks and why would he? The book takes place far from the fly-over states where such
stories would normally take be set. All the action takes place in a part of Long Island, New York which
makes the story scarier because it seems to propose that this kind of hate and misunderstanding could
happen anywhere. A character even discusses how this is true no matter where you are:

“Is it nice?”
“Steer clear of Haight Street and you’ll probably avoid the American Front.”
“American Front?”
“A fistful of aimless skinheaded f**kt***s.”
“But this is a safe place?”
“There’s no such thing as safe, Blabbermouth.”
“Well … like I said, is it nice though?”
“There’s no significant neo-Nazi presence. If there is, they know to keep their bulls**t prejudices
to themselves.”
This concept of bigotry existing adjacent to peace or politeness is one that is elaborated on later in the
story’s conclusion:
“Is it really any better in other places?”
“Worse.”
“No shit?”
“I grew up in Harrison, Arkansas.”
“I’m sorry,” Curry said.
“You should be.”

Freville sets a brisk pace with the novella and manages to maintain it despite obvious opportunities for
lulls. If there is one weakness to this otherwise well-written and engaging assault on hate groups it is
the ease with which the author uses offensive slurs. The dialogue, although keyed in to the cadences of
actual real speech, is rife with derogatory terms for minorities.

On the other hand, these slurs come across as mostly organic to the plot and the people that populate
the story. When one character states that Curry has used a homosexual slur against them, he is quick to
add “Worse than that, he called us all women.” This seems to hammer home the degree of misogyny
that exists within their world.

The author’s gravest mistake seems to be in offering us scant evidence of the hate group’s humanity. At
one point, the reader gets the impression that Freville is comparing the book’s villains to victims. Their
economic backgrounds and lack of education are mentioned as a rather weak justification for their
abhorrent beliefs. This unfortunately brief dive into the hate group’s background only reminds the
reader of how one-dimensional the characters are.

Regardless of the story’s obvious flaws, it it would make a good movie akin to something like Clerks or
Standoff at Sparrow Creek where the characters banter and interrogate each other in a contained setting
over a finite period of time passage.

To sum it all up, The Proud and the Dumb is a fast-paced and funny political horror story that plays
well with genre tropes while presenting its “monsters” with a opportunity for redemption. It is part dark
comedy and part battle cry for reform. This short but sweet tale shines a light on the issues facing
society today in a wholly entertaining yet less than fleshed out way. It seems to offer a brilliant but kind
of stilted suggestion for how we might change course.

About the reviewer: Ian Reilly is a New Jersey writer with a rich history of saying the wrong thing. When he’s not reading too many books, he’s dreaming of leprechauns with gold-plated watches. Follow him at: Ian Reilly | Facebook

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