Monday, May 28, 2012

Lonesome Animals by Bruce Holbert

Title: Lonesome Animals
Author: Bruce Holbert

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / Pacific Northwest / Rural West / Americana / Crime / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Counterpoint (4/17/2012)
Source: Author's publicist.

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A retired lawman with a violent past faces a gruesome crime in 1930s Washington.
Reading Challenges: A-to-Z, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I love the cover: it's gauzy, dusty, cloaked with mystery, evocative and yet, silent.

I'm reminded of...: Keith Donohue

First line: There was, even in Russell Strawl's time, the myth of the strong silent man of the West.

Did... my wife take this book from me while I was reading it because she was so intrigued?: YES. We split reading it -- her during the day, me in the evening -- because we were both so eager!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!

Why did I get this book?: I'm kind of hot for westerns right now!

Review: This is a book that I accepted for review without fully understanding what it was about, and I'm glad I did; I think if I had read the blurb I might have passed. Set in Washington in the 1930s, the story follows Russell Strawl, a frontier lawman with a violent past, who is called out of retirement to investigate the savage murders of Native Americans in the area.

In the vein of No Country for Old Men, True Grit, and The Sisters Brothers, this is a violent, gritty, unapologetic and unromantic look at life in the American west, straddling legal and criminal, violence and peace, romance and lust. There's a heavily noir element in the feel to the characters -- no one is good, and everyone is bad -- and even our hero is a questionable figure. This is a book that made me deeply uncomfortable in the best ways. The story is a bit of a straight up serial killer murder mystery combined with a literary painting of the west coast of the US in the 1930s. As with Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, I was surprised to see how rural life was for folks out west -- and that juxtaposition of 'modern' and 'historic' provided wonderful flavor.

I think I hit Chapter Two when I started gushing about this book to my wife, who really loves dark stuff; she was so intrigued she took the book from me to read, and we ended up having to split it, neither of us wanting to wait to read more. She took it during the day and I read at night, and it was a great experience because we chatted about this book nonstop. I loved Holbert's writing style; the text was literally a character, rich with allusions to Shakespeare and the Bible as Strawl meditated on his life, the romance of the west, the violence he's witnessed. My wife preferred Holbert's dialogue -- it raced, it conveyed character and story, and it had the pragmatic, solid heft one expects from these hard characters. The balance of literary-ness and grounded grimness was really well done -- it satisfied both myself and my wife (even if, at times, the violence was a bit much for me.)

Trying to label this read is challenging: it's literary, and noir, and a Western; it's pretty and gross at the same time. The characters are so unlikable and yet, absolutely compelling, and despite myself, I cared. Oh, I didn't want to -- I wanted to keep everyone at an arm's length -- but they got under my skin. If you're iffy on violence, you might be inclined to skip this one but if you'd ever consider giving a gruesome book a try, let it be Lonesome Animals. You will be grossed out but the tale spun is mesmerising. And finally, if you're on the West Coast (especially Washington), pick this up: the locale is so unlike what I envision the Pacific Northwest so I loved seeing Washington in this light. The landscape as offered by Holbert is captivating, and I confess, I'd love this to be a film because I can only imagine how staggering the cinematography would be.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Lonesome Animals to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 6/8.

19 comments:

  1. Hah, it's very tricky to start praising a book around your spouse! It's a very highly developed art to figure out how to gush without inducing spouse to try to take the book away! LOL

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    1. Lesson learned! Its a blessing & a curse to have a bookish spouse! ;)

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    2. Definitely! My husband is famous for snatching away my books. He only reads young adult, though, so I know which ones to hide from him!

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  2. This is one I wouldn't normally pick up either...but you made it sound so intriguing :) Not only do I have to watch out for my spouse stealing books, my oldest daughter is notorious for stealing my reads :)

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    1. Oh, it is seriously intriguing! Consider it! While I do love my bookish wife, now I need to have a plan to keep from tempting her while I'm reading! ;)

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  3. This is not my normal type of reading, but you've talked it right on to my wish list. I guess everybody needs a good western once in a while, right?

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    1. Mwahahaha -- seriously, though, give it a try -- so delish. It's the western for anyone who thinks they're not going to like a western, I suspect. I hope you enjoy it!

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  4. The reaction that you had to this book reminds me of the way I felt about The Gods of Gotham, which I really loved. I would have to recommend that book to you after reading this one. I really want to read this one now too! It sounds like the perfect blend between darkness and light that I crave sometimes. Excellent and extremely enticing review today, Audra! I need to find this one!

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    1. I am dying to read The Gods of Gotham! I'm so glad you're recommending it now after this review -- that has me even more excited for it! I hope you do get this one and give it a try -- twisted and chilling and super delish!

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  5. Lately, I've been quite interested in books set in the '20s and '30s. There is something so fascinating about a simple world that is on the brink of modernization. I love that the setting is Oregon. I haven't read too many books set in that locale during that time period. I'm definitely writing this on my list!

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    1. Yes -- the brink of modernization is a fascinating part of this book -- at times I'd think I was reading something from the 1880s until I remembered it was nearly 'modern' -- v mind-blowing.

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  6. You make this one sound so good! It's not normally the kind of book I read, but I'm very tempted. When I read Stephen King's 11/22/63, I was careful to save the gushing until I was nearly finished - not sure I would have done so well having to share the book as I was reading it!

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    1. Lesson learned! Normally I never fear -- I can't stop myself from gushing, not to anyone with ears -- so now I'll have to be more cautious!! ;)

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  7. I can't believe you split the book! LOL. I could never do that. I would get twitchy.

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    1. Funnily, I didn't mind too much although I hope this doesn't become a regular thing!!

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  8. "You will be grossed out but the tale spun is mesmerising." I love this line, it cracked me up!
    This book sounds very interesting. I don't mind violence generally but this sounds like all violence or violence and unpleasant, dark situations. But your enthusiasm is hard to ignore and I'd rather try and be pleasantly surprised or if it turns out to be a DNF that's okay, too. Better than wondering if I'd like it or not.
    Fantastic review!

    Audra, are you a speed reader? You must read 10 books a week...and you post a review almost everyday. I am impressed, awed...and a wee bit jealous :o) !!

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    1. Amy, do give it a try -- I normally can't do unceasing dark and gloom but in this case, it never felt extraneous and it really was horrifyingly compulsive -- like potato chips! ;)

      I wouldn't call myself a speed reader although I do read quickly -- and I am very bad about staying up all night to finish a book! I average about 6 books a week, I'd say -- although 10 if I have a very luxurious weekend! (I'm getting all my reading in now before we have kids when I suspect my reading time will be curtailed!)

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  9. oh i think i would like this! great review. i'm getting to enjoy westerns these days!

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    1. Marie -- you would really dig this one, I think, if you're enjoying Westerns! There's a kind of Europa-ish feel to this book -- that heavy, dark feel to the story that should be oppressive but is rather kind of exhilarating.

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