Bruce Stern's Reviews > Savages

Savages by Don Winslow
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Jan 22, 2011

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Read in December, 2010

Review title: What a Waste(land)!

I enjoyed three of the author’s previous Southern California-based mysteries, The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine and California Fire and Life. There are similarities between those books and his newest offering, Savages, and there are major differences between Savages and those three stories, too. Savages has a panache—the marks of a writer finding his style. Sometimes it’s irritating, like with his frequent use of acronyms. Although, perhaps Savages is a one-off—Winslow’s staccato, poetry-like formatting is to be used just for this story. It’s original, yet reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road because of its use of formatting to serve the purpose of the story and its style. Its effective, and helped hold my attention.
With the brief chapters, the quirky formatting, and the clipped sentences, the story is a fast read. Yet, much is said by how Winslow says it. He’s concise. The writing style in many places will be familiar to those who text message and e-mail using lots of abbreviations and acronyms. (I discovered that ‘143’ means ‘I love you’—‘I’ is one letter, ‘love’ is four letters, and ‘you’ is three.) When writes from the point of view of the ‘other’ side he reverts to typical formatting.
Winslow loves poking fun, wax cynical, and make snide remarks about society, peoples’ foolish, childish, immature and stupid behavior. He does so with characters he likes. He’s most churlish towards the peripheral inhabitants. The female protagonist’s mother gets the Don Rickles blasts here, whereas the daughter, quite similar to her mother really, gets a kid glove treatment.
The story is populated with soulless individuals, the rare exception one of the “good(?)” guys who spends time working with humanitarian relief teams around the world. His business partner is a severely spiritually wounded special forces soldier who time in the hellholes of Afghanistan—‘Stanland’—and Iraq—’I-Rock-and-Roll’. He’s come home not with PTSD, but with a deeply felt belief in the exercise of violence as the way of existing and coping in the world. It’s a manifestation of the spiritual hole created by the inhuman actions of soldiers in war. I felt torn between liking the three better people of this story and feeling mild sad and sorry for them.
I was angry with the results of the final scene of the story. My review’s title refers mostly to that.
Score it a 3.5.

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