Update: Patrick Quere and his publisher parted ways in August 2011. – D.R.
Nancy Bruneau’s killer cracked open her skull, sliced her up, and scattered brain and liver fragments in her front yard in Hollywood, Florida.
Her wacko son, Beau, 29, now faces first-degree murder charges.
Or did this debut work from Patrick John Felix Quere, a young author who knew her son, help inspire the killing? It depicts the Poe-grisly deaths of a hobo and hooker at the hands of the fictitious Felix Moullec and a friend.
Might Quere himself—written up in today’s Miami Herald—have even been involved in more worrisome ways in Ms. Bruneau’s demise?
In real life her son is said to have confessed to striking her with a hammer and cinderblock. In the novel Felix the Fictitious smashes the hobo’s head with a limestone rock—not killing him instantly, but finishing the deed later with a “charge of birdshot” that “ripped off half his throat.”
Leon, a pal of Felix the Fictitious, hits the prostitute with a coffee mug, strangles her with a bathroom plunger and stabs her with a “World War I Wilkinson bayonet,” then teams up with the imaginary Felix to cut her in half.
In the wake of the actual killing, here’s what may really raise some eyebrows—buddies working to wreak mayhem. True in life as well as fiction?
Quere’s publisher has distributed a news release mentioning the possibilities of coincidence, a copycat murder or Quere’s involvement “in some way”—to which I’ll add a question: Should the publisher have given us this racist, anti-Semitic freak show of a book in the first place? At least with the publicity touting the novel as “somewhat autobiographical”?
For reasons of freedom of expression, I believe that Amazon and others should not force the publisher to withdraw the electronic and print editions of Grognard (the word means “grumbler” in French and is also a gaming term, and a “grognard” can be an old soldier as well). Furthermore, the accused murderer, Beau Bruneau, the friend of Quere, was a mental case long before Grognard appeared. Beau broke both his legs in 2001 by leaping from the third story of a parking garage.
My hunch is that the novel did not lead to the basic murder—perhaps the act’s style and timing, but not the crime itself. I’ll agree with the publisher and bet that Quere was not involved. Quere showed Beau the manuscript before its publication, according to the publicity. Bruneau probably just “copy-catted” the murder without the author knowing what was going on.
But in the place of Quere’s publisher, Lawrence Knorr of little Sunbury Press, in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, just as a matter of personal tastes, I myself would not have put my company’s name on this hate-filled novel. Afro-Americans, and to a lesser extent Jews and others, are targets of Felix the Fictitious’s anger in Grognard. Felix harbors “a general loathing of city and government employees. He hated everyone anyway; but, like niggers, he hated them slightly more.”
Jews draw such loving adjectives such as “short fat balding loudmouth” or “fat and hideous,” and after one puts out a donation can “to spirit Russian Jews into Israel,” Felix the Fictitious thinks “of when Jesus toppled over the venders’ tables in the temples.” Okay, we know Florida has racial and ethnic tensions. Anything else new?
Catholics—Felix the Fictitious is one—get off far more lightly in the narrative despite his sacrileges with holy impedimenta. To me the book reeks of racism and lower-middle-class French anti-Semitism, which is in keeping with the character; but then the inevitable question arises: Will Felix the Fictitious end up like the crook Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street—a role model for many, even if it’s unintentional? Quere himself is of French descent like his protagonist, and if he and Lawrence Knorr are to play the “somewhat autobiographical” angle, shouldn’t they release a statement distancing themselves sufficiently from the bigotry?
In Knorr’s place, regardless of the promise of donations to mental health causes from the book’s profits, I would avoid offering Grognard or its aftermath to Hollywood or promoting it aggressively. At the same time I would not withdraw the paper and electronic versions of the book from sale. That might simply boost the allure of unauthorized digital copies—the Internet has changed the rules and people online love to defy censors—but perhaps Knorr on his own could stop talking up the book up and urge Quere not to do so either and instead focus on his next projects (“a political manifesto and a science fiction novel about God”). Amazon recently stopped selling a guide for pedophiles, a loathsome work but still a book; might the bookseller decide to do the same with Grognard if Knorr does not handle the issue carefully?
Granted, I recognize the unavoidable Catch-22s in writing at length on Grognard after my friend Dan Bloom alerted me in the wake of a story in the Taipei Times. My present essay is just giving the book more free publicity; I confess! And that’s true even if the readership of solomonscandals.com is just speck of the New York Times’s or the Wall Street Journal’s. But so be it, considering the moral stakes here and the fact that the Miami Herald has already front-paged the story.
From afar, Knorr strikes me as a nice guy who already seems open to logical arguments about Grognard’s violence and also may be educatable about the damage that novels like this could do in the aggregate to relations between different racial and ethnic groups—especially since at least one of the author’s fans on the Amazon site is hailing the book as another Catcher in the Rye. It is a bizarre comparison despite the four five-star write-ups that Grognard has garnered from readers, all but one of them first-time reviewers. The book obviously moves some readers. Along the way, the same fan praises Grognard as “a real wake up call for Americans who are sick of watching America being destroyed by socialism to rise up against their masters who enslaved them.” This is hardly Holden Caulfield speaking. I would not mix up Felix the Fictitious with the Jewish-Irish soul who worried about the ducks in Central Park.
The details of the apparent copy-cat murder are certainly not out of J. D. Salinger, either, family tensions in his various works notwithstanding. The Glasses’s differences were not that major. Ms. Bruneau’s son, Beau Henri Bruneau, allegedly woke up the day before Halloween and started planning to murder his mother because, as the arrest affidavit puts it, she was “trying to kill him by neglecting him and yelling at him.”
“I just tried to kill my mom,” young Bruneau allegedly went on to tell an emergency dispatcher. He “hit her, and then I hit her with a hammer and then with a brick.”
“Where is she right now?” the dispatcher asked.
“She’s laying on the front yard.”
The dispatcher wanted to know if she was still conscious.
“She doesn’t have a brain, sir,” Beau is said to have replied in a classic that ranks with the 1982 New York Post headline, “Headless body in topless bar.”
The Sun Sentinel newspaper has placed an MP3 of the exchange online.”
I’ll leave it to the courts to find Beau Bruneau guilty, if the audio recording truly reflects what happened. But what can’t be denied is how little emotion we detect in Bruneau’s voice during the emergency call—in the best psychopathic tradition?—given the mayhem of the day and the crime’s victim. He may be short of breath if we are not simply hearing radio noise. But that is about it.
Such matter-of-factness easily matches the tone of Patrick Quere’s work, even though this is far from proof that Quere himself was an accessory. Granted, Stephen King’s novels abound in the macabre, without any risk of any jail time for the writer. But he departs from the believable often enough, and somehow I cannot imagine King personally knocking off a hobo or hooker is his spare time or letting his publisher tout his most horror-rich works as “somewhat autobiographical”—except maybe when we consider the fictitious victim who resembled the real-life, fan-afflicted writer of Misery.
What’s more, Edgar Allan Poe presumably did not commit the grotesqueries so eloquently described in his writings. The difference between him and Quere, beyond Poe’s reputation as a master of horror, is that the immortal’s characters can experience guilt and remorse from the acts that alcohol may well have induced. In fact, guilt can be a major theme, and I’ll enthusiastically go along; zillions of Jewish writers specialize in guilt, even without booze to blame, and I’m among them. Philip Roth would be out of business without guilt even if his characters’ rationalizations are often less than fully convincing.
By contrast, in keeping with the psychopathic nature of Grognard, Quere’s protagonist regards guilt as a wasteful emotion and seldom lets his efficiency flag in the novel. Quere wrote Grognard is in the third person. But in the depth with which he plumbs the protagonist’s mind—without other, possibly redeeming perspectives—it might as well be in the first person. In case you’re curious, the book’s title happens to be the name of the sailboat where we eavesdrop on dialogue between son, father and old-soldier grandfather, and where we part with Felix the Fictitious at the end of the book.
Just what are the excuses for the actions of Felix the Fictitious? Well, among other things, his mother was an alcoholic hooker who hated him, and his father, a cook, calls him “honey” and sees him as a sex object. And of course the crooks and screw-ups in D.C. have wrecked the economy and Felix the Fictitious can’t find a job worthy of his talents. Ah! Environment and all that.
In literary philosophy, I’m a hardboiled naturalist in various ways and don’t believe in ignoring or constantly prettying up human ugliness or its causes. But Quere appears to have gone too far, while at the same time failing to provide motives that could justify the gory murders of strangers innocent of the abuses that Felix the Fictitious actually suffered from his parents. Nor–even with horrific interracial bullying recalled from the character’s school days–does Quere justify the depth of the racial and ethnic grudges that infest so much of the Grognard.
Yes, Florida contains its share of white-hating people with dark skins, and, like anyone else, aristocratic Wasps included, some Jews can be scumbags (furthermore, as the author of The Solomon Scandals, a Washington corruption novel, I’m hardly blind to the darker sides of today’s D.C. and Wall Street). But Quere’s book just lets the bigotry and general hate rage on and on; nor does he speak up against it in the official online publicity that I’ve seen related to the book.
We’re not talking about an Archie Bunker here with some likeable traits and a Meathead character to give the other side of the race question, or about bigotry just here and there in Grognard. In too many paragraphs Felix the Fictitious sustains Nazi-level hatred toward minorities as expressed in concrete contemporary terms without the decades that separate us from the world of Mein Kampf. Godwin’s famous law against Nazi references in debates is often useful, but here we are talking about actual racial and ethnic hatred rather than a World War II example pulled in as an analogy for a totally unrelated topic.
Of course Grognard’s defenders would say it’s just reflecting reality, that America is sliding downhill and the book serves as a metaphor for the plight of the country as a whole. I reject that premise, even as the Great Recession drags on and President Obama at time acts like a crypto-Republican. Like California, Florida is a nation unto itself. Admittedly we all suffer from the effects of phenomena like “hanging chads” and the direct or indirect damage from the narcotics that flow into and out of Florida and twist our national psyche. And Washington itself abounds with graft and other outrages and grotesqueries. Still, I hardly see Felix the Fictitious as a real-life Everyman for all of America. Not yet. The irony is that with all the crazies on cable TV—and now in fiction like Grognard—the media’s prophesies may someday be self-fulfilling.
Note: I’ve alerted Lawrence Knorr about this post and invited him and/or Patrick Quere to reply if they’d like—about the possibility of a statement separating them from the bigotry in the “somewhat autobiographical” novel.
Update, November 16: Sunbury Press followed my suggestion above—in a response to this post. Better, I’ve figured out how Grognard could be less offensive and yet more dramatic; and Sunbury will pass my ideas on to Patrick Quere for him to consider when he does a sequel, expected early next year. An updated and otherwise modified version of my commentary will appear in a new edition in December. I mulled things over and concluded that the best strategy would be to reach out and see if I couldn’t influence the sequel and other spinoffs (no guarantees—these are matters for author and publisher to decide).