Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: "Drama City" by George Pelecanos

I have been a huge fan of George Pelecanos for a long time, and when I began one of his stand-alone novels, Drama City, I found myself a little disappointed. Judging from some of my favorite books of his, such as The Turnaround and Hard Revolution, his stories are always fast, and I get through with a great sense of urgency. This one is a bit different though; it is a lot slower, and instead of dealing with large criminals and even larger crimes, this a is a book about everyday people, some of whom are trying to get free of the drug game, despite it’s massive, alluring pull, and those who seek happiness and recognition through their criminal activities, in a sense emulating the people who have come, and mostly died before them, seeing their sad, pointless deaths as some sort of pathway to immortality. As I continued to read on, and Pelecanos ingeniously gets inside the head of five or six main characters, I finally understood what he was trying to do with this book. This is a book where no one is going anywhere; they are trapped by system, or code, if you will, that turns innocent bodies into victims of violence, with no real reason of reward. People are killed by other ruthless people, but there are no real villains in this story, just people who find themselves at a crossroads in life, being forced, by friends or by their inner thoughts to make a tough decision about their future. One such person is Lorenzo Brown, who is seemingly on the right path. He is out of prison and out of the drug game, making an honest, and possibly noble living working at The Humane society, saving neglected animals from the streets. He has a good relationship with his parole officer, Rachel, who has enough problems outside of her job, but is tempted to get back into crime by his old friend Nigel, who finds himself in a war with Deacon, another drug dealer, whose dreams, identical to Nigel’s, leave no room for sharing. Unlike like a book full of action like Hard Revolution, there aren’t many big action sequences in this book, but the one that is the most memorable is among the best pieces of writing Pelecanos has ever put down. In it, four men, two of Nigel’s and two of Deacon’s, are headed toward a violent showdown that will leave some of them dead. Pelecanos gets inside each of their heads, showing four complex mindsets, with hopes dreams, regrets and aspirations, and when finally, the bullets are fired, I guarantee it will break your heart, especially when one of the surviving boys makes a rash, repugnant mistake, one that finally forces Lorenzo to make a decision of his own. Spliced into the narrative are NA meetings, which seem to stall the story a bit, but it pays off beautifully at the end. Those expecting a high-octane story of murder and revenge may feel let down, but this is quite a moving story that will reward you if you’re patient.

Rating: 5/5

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