Savages by Don Winslow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the blurbs on the cover of Don Winslow’s “Savages” screams: “A New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and Chicago Sun-Times BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR”. Well, certainly not for me, quite far from that, although I have to admit I have had lots of fun reading this 2010 book. It is refreshingly different from the standard, mainstream fare in the thriller/suspense genre. I love when a book defies my expectations, and this one manages to do it splendidly.
“Savages” stands out among other works in the genre almost entirely because of the writing. Mr. Winslow plays with the language and the style, and lets the reader have fun along with him. I find the prose, the formatting, and the structuring of the text enormously entertaining. For example, there are 290 short chapters in the novel. Chapter 1 contains just two words, for the total of seven letters (four letters for the first word and three for the second). These two words form an apt summary of the message conveyed by the novel.
The prose of the book reflects what is considered to be “real life” these days, i.e., the popular culture of Internet, TV advertising, and the movies. The novel is saturated with the “hip” and “cool” phraseology. Moreover, the plot happens in locations popularly perceived to be the most hip and cool in the world – the Southern California area of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.
The novel is full of word plays, puns, and acronyms. Thankfully, many of them are not “spoiled” (decrypted) by the author (for instance, BFF, 2G2BT, two different meanings of DP). Yet Mr. Winslow shows the other dimension of his erudition as well: we have “deconstruct in non-Derida way”, we have a reference to Sartre, and frequent word etymology snippets. We even have some self-referentiality. Fun, fun, fun!
“Savages” would be a phenomenal novel if not for the plot. It is pretty cliché and boring. Ben and Chon have a successful operation growing and distributing high-quality marijuana. One of the Baja drug cartels tries to muscle in and take over the distribution of the stuff. Ben and Chon fight the cartel. That’s it.
Oliver Stone directed a movie based on the novel. I wonder why. All that’s good in the novel is language-based and thus non-cinematic. All that’s cinematic has already been done many, many times.
Three and a half stars (actually, 3.51, thus I round it up to four stars).
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