Vacuum County is a novel written by Aya Katz, which opens with the predicament of the character Verity Lakeland in jail. Verity makes the odd request to phone someone in Moscow for her one allotted call, which is not something you do not usually hear someone in jail ask to do, and it caught my attention from the start. A few pages later we learn that Verity’s parents are some type of diplomats in Moscow, which explains her unique request, but it is still a very mysterious opening to this novel. This is a tale is about unusual town, divergent people and events, so after a while Verity’s phone call request is one of the few things that makes sense in peculiar Vacuum County.
Sometimes you just cannot get into a novel if the first few pages drag on, but from the beginning we hit the ground running watching (the text feels like a movie) the story of Verity Lackland unfold, which it does with engrossing detail. Soon we learn Verity was arrested for DWI in Vacuum County, Texas, yet she claims she is a teetotaler, and there is no evidence showing she was driving under the influence, such as an alcohol level test. From the start it sounds as if Verity has been proven guilty before even had a chance to prove her innocence in court.
The trouble for Verity all began when she was going on a shopping trip to Dallas, and she got a flat tire right on the outskirts of Vacuum County. A woman driving by wanted to help Verity change her flat tire, but the woman’s husband threw a conniption fit, so she sent a sheriff back to help Verity. At first the Sheriff Abner Brown seems polite, and he even offers to buy Verity lunch while she has her car serviced in town since she cannot drive very far on the spare tire. Verity starts to feel uneasy about Sheriff Brown’s behavior, especially since it becomes apparent he is turning her situation into a romantic date, so she leaves against his wishes, and pays for the repairs to her car. Verity is on her way out of Vaca City when Sheriff Brown pulled her over and arrested her for DWI, but with no proof of any kind.
Now Verity has to stay at the Brown N’ Serve, a hotel and diner owned by Sheriff Brown’s brother Eb Brown, and she is awaiting trial for the alleged drinking and driving charges. This is all quite a bizarre turn of events for a college girl who was just going on a shopping trip, and now you are beginning to wonder if Verity has stepped into a Twilight Zone of sorts.
Verity’s situation goes from odd to incomprehensible when her lawyer David suggests she plead no contest to the DWI charges, but she is hesitant to do so as she is innocent. The judge rules that Verity is guilty and that she must serve six months of probation in Vacuum County, so she ends up working as a waitress for Eb at the Brown N’ Serve so she can pay off her three hundred dollar probation fee.
As time goes on in the story, we begin to wonder about certain characters, and why they remain in Vaca City, such as the dark-haired lady Mickey, who is David’s wife and dinner companion at the Brown N’ Serve. Mickey appears squeamish about how David used to play the guitar there, and she is a mysterious lady who deems herself sophisticated by Vacuum County standards, yet she chooses to remain there rather than move to a larger Texan city. For some reason, I just imagine Mickey feeling more at home going to Houston Ballet rather than hanging out with David in a diner in some isolated part of Texas.
So there are many questions the reader has, such as why is the town named Vaca City in Vacuum County proper? We know that Verity ponders this and talks about the meaning of Vacuum meaning empty in Spanish, and Vaca meaning cow in Spanish, but it is all a bit perplexing. It seems like Vacuum is a smallish county with the city of Vaca in it, but there is definitely more behind the names than this, and the only way to discover the mystery is the read the story. Also, why does the sophisticated Mickey remain married to David when she could find a more suitable husband in a larger city? Why is Verity accused of a crime she did not commit, and with no evidence to boot? If you want to found out what happens to Verity, and get to the bottom of things in Vacuum County, I would recommend reading the book to find out.
Vacuum County is definitely a novel that has pulled me into a part of the world I have never visited. The description of the red bricked roads and Victorian architecture reminds me of parts Redlands, California, which helped me to visualize Vaca City a bit more. The characters speak in a Texan dialect, which also makes the pages come alive. I think this book might also make an interesting play or movie, considering all the rich and quirky characters to found in Vacuum County.