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Dave Shiflett

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In The Matter Of J. Van Pelt
by Dave Shiflett   

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Literary Fiction


Copyright:  Jan 23, 2012

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"In The Matter of J. Van Pelt" is a novel about a Washington political operative who goes sane and leaves town, only to be pursued and destroyed by his enemies.

“In The Matter Of J. Van Pelt” is a book about obsession – political, religious, romantic and historical. It’s also about True Love and hope, which are also dangerous.

J. Van Pelt , 42, is a true believer on the slide. He works for a conservative legal foundation that has stumbled across a career-building case: Max Gold, a revered liberal fundraiser, has been observed in an innocent yet embarrasing position by a 12- year-old boy. The lad’s father demands justice – or at least a lawsuit that will force Gold to cough up substantial money to alleviate his son’s “pain and suffering.”

Putting Gold’s head on the wall would make Van Pelt an ideological superstar. Yet as he prepares to launch a lawsuit targeting Gold he feels increasingly ill at ease, largely due to reading his own diary entries. What sort of man, he wonders, hopes to advance himself this way? Only a loser and a crank.

Steadily, his ideological certitudes fall away. He’s also consumed by the impending death of his uncle Shupe, who is part Moses, part Snopes, and part W.C. Fields. He resides in Appomattox County, Va., where his family has lived for three centuries. He’s an old man, raised by a slave, who sailed the world with the Navy, came to believe in U.F.O.s, wants to be cloned. He has, he reveals, also dabbled in cannibalism.

By comparison, Van Pelt feels his life is empty and meaningless. He has never really taken a chance. The voice that presents itself in his diary – the Lurking Entity – convinces him he must break free from Washington. Van Pelt has also met a beautiful woman – Alison -- another life-changing development.

But freedom comes with its own set of problems, including his discovery that Shupe was involved in a murder that only Van Pelt can make right. He also wonders if Alison would love him if she knew his deepest secrets – secrets contained in this very book.

Van Pelt is a strange man, but he's also heroic -- brave enough to leave his daily grind behind, and to bare his soul in the pursuit of love.

He also turns out to be a proficient grave-robber.


An Excerpt from Van Pelt's Diary describing how his Uncle Shupe, now on his deathbed, sees cloning as the next form of slavery and urges Van Pelt to invest early:

“Haysoos – cloned people is gonna be the biggest industry since the automobile. Any fool can see why. They’ll pick up where the slave industry dropped off. What they’re gonna do is cook up clones with just enough stuff missing so no one can call them legal humans. They’ll make some without eyes, some without ears, some without legs or noses, and none of ‘em will have tongues to complain with. They won’t have no words or songs. They’ll be quiet as mold. They’ll clone ‘em on big cloning farms and ship ‘em off to assembly lines. It’s perfect. Since they’re not really humans they wouldn’t have to get paid a dime. Won’t have no families fretting over them, and since they can’t vote politicians won’t give them a thought. Preachers will figure they got no soul so they won’t come snooping around. The factory men will hook ‘em up to feeding hoses and let ‘em work till they wear out. Then they’ll grind ‘em up and start over. You got to get in on that, Haysoos. You’d be so rich you could have Rockefeller cleaning your toilets.”

After being lightly groped by his love object, Van Pelt reflects on the fact that his life has been changed by a gentle stroke across a small patch of microscopic nerve endings. Then again, he reasons, most of the good and bad done in the world is the work of humans who use only ten percent of their brains, max:

If you collected ten percent of the brain matter from the top twenty people who have shaped human history -- Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Hitler, Marx, Columbus, Aristotle, Plato, Kepler, Einstein, and ten people from Asia, etc., I don’t know about -- the whole batch could easily fit in a small beer keg.

Shupe’s Proof of an Immortal Soul:

“The proof’s in breaking wind. Lookit. What happens when we break wind? We laugh. All of us. Say you’re in a Quaker meeting. Quiet as death. One of them Quakers breaks his wind. They all smile. Couple of them outright laugh. Right or wrong?”

I told him he had to be right.

“I am right. You take a criminal. Walk him up the steps to the gallows. Put the noose around his neck. The hangman cuts loose. What happens? The criminal laughs. Can’t help it. You know what that means?!” I told Shupe I wasn’t sure.

“Mean’s we’re laughing at our own flesh. If we weren’t nothing but meat we wouldn’t laugh when the wind breaks. Why would we? Meat don’t laugh at meat. Only spirit laughs at meat. That’s your soul laughing. Every time wind breaks and you laugh, you just certified your immortal soul.”

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