Monday, 12 September 2011

Don Winslow: Savages

OK, Don, you beat me. You can go back to the easy listening stuff that I was complaining about before, and I'll stop complaining.

Savages is a good book, in a way. It's not literature; the characters are a little too one note, the pace of the plot a little wrong. But it packs quite a punch as it wraps up. I'm not sure what Winslow had in mind at the beginning, but I suspect that he had half in mind to do one of those caper novels where a small band of lovable rogues outsmart the big organisation and ride off into the sunset. Somewhere about three or four weeks into writing that book, I think he had an epiphany and asked "Who am I kidding? The little guys never get away with it." And then he got right back to writing it towards a big old helping of doom.

It might have been better - for the reader, if not for the book - if Don had gone back over the original chapters and changed the tone a little, because once the going gets tough, there's more than a little mood whiplash. And the pacing of the unfolding tragedy isn't quite right. When things fall apart once and for all, as we knew all along that they would, it's not just too sudden, but too rushed, too hasty. Winslow is a good writer, and I suspect that he did on purpose all the things which don't quite sit with me, simply to make a point about how things are, as opposed to how we want them to be. But I'm not sure that it worked.

That said, the ending is heartbreaking, for all that it gets less space on the page than a list of all the shops in a shopping mall did earlier. Savages is not Winslow's best book - Power of the Dog is probably his best piece of work overall and California Life and Fire the one I like to come back to. But it's well worth your time. Just wish it could all have worked out for those crazy kids.

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