I Want to Buy a Vowel: A Novel of Illegal Alienation

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Overview

"My doctor says Mylanta..." "Aetna, I'm glad I met ya..." "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup..." What if you were an illegal alien? What if the only way you had to learn to speak English, and learn about America, was by watching TV? Who else would help? Who would tell you how to buy a vowel and get on Wheel of Fortune? Who else would understand? "Kotex understands..." So does John Welter. His third novel, I Want to Buy a Vowel, asks the question "Where do you sleep when you're still dreaming the American Dream?" It's full of the
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Overview

"My doctor says Mylanta..." "Aetna, I'm glad I met ya..." "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup..." What if you were an illegal alien? What if the only way you had to learn to speak English, and learn about America, was by watching TV? Who else would help? Who would tell you how to buy a vowel and get on Wheel of Fortune? Who else would understand? "Kotex understands..." So does John Welter. His third novel, I Want to Buy a Vowel, asks the question "Where do you sleep when you're still dreaming the American Dream?" It's full of the offbeat irony that reviewers cheered in his first two novels and that has won him a cult following among the ranks of the terminally irreverent. John Welter's I Want to Buy a Vowel is a joyous satire of all-American alienation, small-town confusion, and local media gone amok. It tells the story of how a little man looking for a home and a little girl looking for God find big trouble over the course of a long, hot summer. And it answers, once and for all the burning question: "Have you driven a Ford, lately?..."
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
No wonder Eva Galt thinks Ted Williams is the face of God. Her father is an Episcopalian minister who loves baseball, and a boy in her neighborhood is posing as a Satanist, leaving offerings of Vienna sausages all over town. Meanwhile, the face of the Blessed Virgin has appeared in a stamp machine at the post office, and a holy-roller evangelist is organizing a protest against a newly painted reproduction of the Sistine Chapel in a local grocery store. Full of questions about faith, fishing, and growing up, 11-year-old Eva and her ever-present little sister Ava find themselves caught up in the controversies while helping a homeless illegal alien from Guatemala who talks in TV sound bites. This satire of small-town life and religious intolerance is fast-paced and funny. The clever puns don't quite make up for the one-dimensional characters and lack of insight into their behavior, but fans of Southern humor will enjoy Welter's third comic novel. Recommended for fiction collections where the satire is in short supply.Charlotte L. Glover, Ketchikan P.L., Ark.
School Library Journal
YAAlfredo Santayana, an illegal alien who speaks only lines from TV commercials, finds shelter for himself in a local haunted house. Ava and Eva, elementary school-aged sisters, decide to search for ghosts, but instead find Alfredo. Kenlow Schindler, teenaged son of the local preacher, decides to "sacrifice" Vienna sausages as an act of rebellion against his father. Alfredo, Ava, Eva, and Kenlow's paths all come together to make an unforgettable summer for the residents of Waxahachie, TX. Welter offers realistic scenarios of small-town life along with various perspectives on immigration and religion, all enhanced with large doses of humor. Using his sharp wit and keen ability to describe American society, he delivers a clear look at how our culture both functions and malfunctions. Characters first appear to be defined in stereotypical terms, but during the course of the story, the author cleverly transforms each into a unique personality. The humor, repeated through both dialogue and situational comedy, makes this story outstanding. Conversations between the young sisters, reminiscent of Marx brothers' routines, provide insight into life, marriage, and language. A novel that is similar in tone and style to Clyde Edgerton's Walking Across Egypt (Algonquin, 1987).Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
School Library Journal
An illegal alien, who speaks only lines from TV commercials, encounters several disparate characters while living in a haunted house. Their slapstick antics clash comically with the routines of a small Texas town. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Comic novel set in a small town in Texas from the author of Night of the Avenging Blowfish (1994) and Begin to Exit Here (1992).

The title—inspired by the game show Wheel of Fortune—is the one English phrase that Alfredo Santayana, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, knows. He's hiding in an abandoned house just outside of Waxahachie, Texas, and, as the story begins, the innocent Alfredo is about to become a suspect in an investigation of satanic practices. Little Eva Galt, a minister's kid, spies on him and then befriends him. Meanwhile, another preacher's kid, Kenlow, begins drawing pentagrams around the countryside and leaving whatever fresh meat he can find—beef liver, Vienna sausage—as evidence of ritual sacrifice. The sheriff would just as soon laugh the matter off, but then Eva finds a skeleton, suggesting what may be a real case of satanic sacrifice. The local media get hold of it. An evangelical preacher embraces the issue. Someone claims to have seen the Virgin Mary reflected on the surface of a post office stamp machine; the stamp machine is stolen. And, in still another skewed expression of religious fervor, a painter reproduces drawings from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of the local food mart. It truly seems as though some kind of wacky conspiracy is at work, but then Eva spots Kenlow at his mischief, clearing up much of the mystery. Alfredo even becomes a hero, and, green card in hand, gets a job scooping up smashed armadillos from the highway. Welter goes for laughs, and often gets them—his kids here, in particular, are charming, as they speculate upon the utility of prayer or troll for catfish at the local sewage lagoon. On the other hand, Welter uses such a broad brush that he's never truly satirical, and his quintessential small town is both too idealized and dumbed-down to be believable.

A Tom Bodett wannabe.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425160817
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/1/1997
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 231
  • Product dimensions: 4.28 (w) x 7.18 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author


John Welter began his writing career as a newspaper copy boy, buying cigarettes for the city editor. Since then he has worked as a reporter at newspapers in the Midwest and the South and published humor sketches in The Atlantic. His first book, Begin to Exit Here: A Novel of the Wayward Press, was widely praised and selected by Library Journal as a "Word of Mouth" recommendation for 1991. He lives in North Carolina, where he writes a humor column for The Chapel Hill Herald and is a manager for a mail-order company. He has never been a Secret Service agent, but sometimes wears dark glasses.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2000

    I Want To Buy Another Welter

    This book went so fast, I had to force myself to put it down so I could savor it. The payoff at the end was really worth it though. Welter takes a scathing and witty look at intolerance, small-town smallmindedness, childhood innocence, religious zealoutry and hypocricy, and wraps it all up into a somehow cohesive and thoughtful work of art. I hate falling for an author who has written so few books. Keep them coming, John!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2000

    great dialogue

    John Welter writes some of the wittiest dialogue you'll ever read. I Want To Buy A Vowell is the best of his three books. All of his works are quick reads, great for travel. I am anxiousily waiting for his next.

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