Monday, January 28, 2013

Savages: Despite Aaron Johnson's face, I remain unconvinced

Savages, man. This book made me feel kind of empty inside. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. Because I think I did?

The story: Chon and Ben have a successful hydro-growing operation in So Cal, where they manage to do business with very little violence. Behold, the Good Guys. The Baja Cartel is expanding into Southern California and wants to take over Chon and Ben’s growing operation, with excessive violence if necessary. I present to you, the Bad Guys.

The female characters are a bit of a problem for me. We have exactly two of them: O, playing the part of Free Spirit, and Elena, Tough Boss Lady. To me, they seem like stock characters from some dude’s private fantasies (I’m looking at you, Don).

How to describe O? Tattooed manic pixie dream girl with an insatiable sex drive and a shopping addiction and daddy issues and a natural knack for machinery (“I'm an expert marksman even though I've never touched a gun before now!”).

And I LIKE wearing this schoolgirl outfit.

I think I’m supposed to care that she might be decapitated by a chainsaw and I just . . . don’t.

Elena is marginally more intriguing. As the last living member of the cartel's ruling family, she has very little choice about taking over leadership. And in the ultra-machismo Mexican drug culture, she has to prove that she’s not weak. But she doesn’t relish the role she plays.
“She didn’t want to kill them, but she had to, and for this she blames herself. Because she allowed the first man who disrespected her to get away with it. And the second, and the third. . . . Men teach you how they must be treated.” (pp. 97, 99)
She victimizes to avoid being victimized, which is absolutely a thing. But then this happens:
“In the U.S., Elena would be called a definite MILF.” (p. 101)

The leading men, Ben and Chon, are set up as exact opposites.
“Ben is warm wood, Chon is cold metal.
Ben is caring, Chon indifferent. . . .
She loves them both.
What to do, what to do?” (p. 42)
I can understand how O is in love with both of them, especially since O is such a . . . special lady. But the fact that the men in question are OK with this simultaneous loving is a little hard to swallow. (No pun intended. I apologize.) O has no idea how they feel about her divided loyalties (and doesn’t really care), so we never get insight into their thoughts on that matter. But I think it would have been a better book if Ben and Chon ran away together and ditched the blonde.

I rest my case.

The writing style is what salvages it for me. It’s machine-gun fast and cinematic, with small portions written in screenplay format to heighten the effect. The anonymous narrator has a clear, strong voice that really represents Southern California. And in the process of writing this paragraph, I’ve almost talked myself into liking the book.

Maybe if the women weren’t blowup dolls. Maybe then.


  1. Ugggggggh, you have not talked me into loving this- boo stock lady characters, and also this? “In the U.S., Elena would be called a definite MILF.” Really? REALLY?!

    In conclusion, I shall not read this. But thanks for taking the bullet on this one, I owe you!

  2. I was going to leave my own comment but it's pretty much just what you said so yeah.

  3. While I'm just piggy backing on other people's comments, I would like to agree with your thoughts on Sucker Punch. I was all excited for it and then I read the reviews and now...not so much. Dammit.

  4. Yes, I have seen Aaron Johnson's face, and I STILL agree with you! This book is not for me. I bet that "friend" of mine on goodreads thinks it's an insightful look at SoCal culture.

  5. I am SORRY about reigniting your Sucker Punch sads. I was also excited about it, because of my love for Zack Snyder and kick-ass ladies. But was the worst. Let's never speak of it again.

    Come to California, and I will teach you the ways! (By that, I mean we will go to Yogurtland and In-N-Out Burger and possibly the beach but probably not because there's no food there.)

  6. So...just so we're clear, you have NOT seen it?

  7. This was a half-hearted effort to talk myself into liking it. I've failed on all fronts. BUT I'm not giving up on Don Winslow because I have another of his books and I will read it.

  8. I have not. And I wanted to see it because in trailers in looked good. But then the tales of what the movie actually was came out. Nothing good, nothing good...

  9. While I have no desire to read this book now, lol, the movie was soooo good, dude. You should watch it! (I'm assuming you haven't.)

  10. I HAVEN'T. I really wanted to when if first came out...but now I might need to give it a few months.

  11. I keep confusing this with the movie THE Savages, which is just so great, and then this seems not so and boo.

    Also, I was reeeeal excited about Sucker Punch, and then the reviews came out and said it was the most misogynistic thing ever and I was SO SAD and now I cannot see pics of it without reliving that disappointment so THANK YOU.

    ALSO. I don't get SoCal culture. But I am going to try to learn. I am going to try to learn.