In the last four days, I bought 17 books.
Whew. Okay. It’s out. Now you all know that when I say I have a problem with buying books, I don’t mean a small one. I mean that I had to relocate at least 30 books to floor piles (pictured) so that I might reduce the risk of one of my overburdened bookshelves collapsing during the night, thereby giving me a fatal heart attack and forcing some hapless relative to sort through my massive paperback collection while distributing my possessions post-mortem. Now you know that when I say I have a book-buying problem, I mean that I actively facilitate the makings of a serious physical hazard.
In fact, so unchecked is my penchant for bookstores that this weekend marked the first time I actually purchased a book I already owned—Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, which I am (perhaps out of guilt) now reading. In the interest of making lemonade out of lemons, I will award (and mail) the extra copy to a lucky reader, to be determined after the writing of that review. …Similarly, I think it would be in everyone’s best interest if I started finding a way to give away other books, so keep your eyes peeled for more details on that in coming weeks.
Anyway! Book-buying guilt also propelled me into a frenzy of reading this weekend (under the logic that finishing 3 books would somehow justify buying 17) and so I have a wealth of reviews to write. On Friday I finished Don Winslow’s Savages, on Saturday John Green’s Looking for Alaska, on Sunday Nora Ephron’s Wallflower at the Orgy and yesterday Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction. I haven’t read this quickly and productively since that time I had chicken pox and my mom brought me an entire stack of Tiger Beat.
Now, it’s long been my policy to try and read a book before I see the movie adaptation, and book No. 1 in this week’s bonanza, Don Winslow’s Savages, is exactly why. I haven’t seen the movie yet—and at this point will probably have to wait until it shows up on HBO—but there’s no way, just absolutely no way, that it’s as good as the book. And I don’t say that from a mean-spirited Blake-Lively-hating place; it’s just that the book is a) really good and b) a really good book.
(…but I do just want to pause and say: you go, Blake Lively. You work that tragic slut typecasting thing for as long as possible girl.)
Savages follows the story of Ben and Chon and O (short for Ophelia), best friends living in Southern California. Ben and Chon are growers of high-quality marijuana, until Mexico’s Baja Cartel demands a cut and they decide to get out of the game. Which prompts the BC to kidnap Ophelia (who is also, it’s worth mentioning, kind of both Ben and Chon’s girlfriend). You can probably imagine that all hell breaks loose from there.
Given the subject matter, it would have been fairly difficult for Winslow to write a slow book about kidnapping and drugs and murder (although, see: Blow.) But the most pleasant surprise about Savages isn’t the action, which is, to borrow some classic cover-copy review text, GRIPPING, but the unique style in which the novel is written. Winslow writes sparsely, breaking sentences up mid-line, heavily employing slang, alternating without much warning between objective narrative and insight into an individual character’s thoughts. The result is a HIGH-OCTANE THRILLER with the character development of a much denser and less action-packed novel.
Moreover, Savages is an interesting—and probably accurate—look into the War on Drugs. The competition between cartels, the ineffectiveness of the police, the sheer casualness with which executions are ordered. Perhaps by virtue of its style, Savages never felt to me like a particularly dark novel, but maybe that says more about my (our) familiarity with and reluctant acceptance of the situation in Mexico than it does about the book itself.
If you’re looking for a beach read, or just a read, I highly recommend Savages, and—based on my perusal of the author’s other books—probably anything else written by Don Winslow. Having never been to Southern California (I know, I know) there’s only so much I can guess about the novel’s portrayal of the area and its ethos, but it certainly feels like Winslow has the California culture down pat, the same way Thomas Wolfe nails Wall Street, Bruce Wagner L.A. and Bret Easton Ellis New York. Whether or not you love them, you can’t help but be intrigued by the group of people (not only Ben, Chon and O but also the Baja Cartel’s leading lady, her main hitman and a crew of other characters) Winslow has created. The fact that said fascination leads you on a FAST-PACED THRILL RIDE THROUGH CALIFORNIA COUNTER-CULTURE is simply icing on the cake.
AUTHOR: Don Winslow
PAGES: 302 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The Kings of Cool, The Power of the Dog
SORTA LIKE: Chuck Palahniuk writes Scarface
FIRST LINE: “Fuck you.”