Mike Nettleton's Reviews > Savages

Savages by Don Winslow
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Oct 19, 11

Read in October, 2011

Savages by Don Winslow is nothing if not explicit. Explicitly violent, explicitly sexual and explicitly, one of the most entertaining books I’ve read this year. While some writers use words like paint on a canvas, dabbing on a color here and another there and layering in thicker textures where needed, Winslow sculpts books, using words as the raw material to create fiction that is not only a treat for the imagination, but a feast for the eyes. From the two words that comprise chapter one “***k you.”, to taut passages of traditional narrative, character illuminating dialogue and even snatches of the story scripted as a screenplay, Winslow uses the page to carve out mental pictures that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.
I’ve long admired Winslow for creating unique voices for his characters and with Savages he’s amped it up to 13, as Nigel says in This is Spinal Tap. Chon is a former Navy Seal who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, hired out as a mercenary and came home to Orange County with what his friend and lover O calls “baditude.” He craves action, hoards words and is deeply cynical about the American Dream. O, short for Ophelia or Orgasm, depending on who you ask, is the daughter of PAQU a totally SOC R & B. The second acronym stands for South Orange County Rich and Beautiful. I’ll let you discover the meaning of the first for yourself. She loves sex, food, shopping, reality television and smoking primo bud with her BFF’s and lovers Chon and Ben. A pacifistic “green” idealist, Ben converts the money he makes growing and selling the highest quality marijuana in California into schools, food and medical care for children in third world countries.
You experience this generation why-not love triangle and a suspense-packed encounter with the dark forces of the Baja, California drug cartels from Ben, Chon and O’s unique points of view. Plus Winslow brings in the perspective of other players in the narcissistic Southern California “me” culture and the ruthless Mexican narcotraficantes.
Ultimately, this is a story about the agonizing moral decisions life forces people to make in the name of friendship and survival. It is rich, textured and often laugh out loud funny. If you buy it, and I hope you do, here’s a warning. You’ll be turning pages nonstop until your bedmate groans and snarls at you to “turn out your light and go to sleep for God’s sake.” Banished from the bedroom by my wife and two dinky dogs (one of whom actually bared her teeth at me), I finished Savages on the couch, wrapped in the world’s rattiest bathrobe, while eating a still-ice-crusted scone pillaged from the freezer, washed down with Jack Daniels mixed into chocolate milk. Pretty much your perfect evening.
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