Thursday, September 24, 2015
Review: "The Power of the Dog" by Don Winslow
Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, the best book I have ever read about the drug trade in the modern world, is the kind of book that I look forward to reading, cherish while reading and come back to not just months, but years after I finish it. It is both impeccable in its executions, powerful in it subject matter and intimate enough with its characters that they never seem like a statistic or a sad symbol for our decaying times, but real people we come to take emotional stock in as the story progresses turns violent and scary, and finally breaks our heart. What really makes a book like this so special is that Winslow himself never sacrifices one important aspect of his long (the 600 page sequel to this 500 page book, The Cartel, just came out this year) narrative for another. This books deals in equal measure with the minutiae of the War on Drugs, most of which are fascinating albeit horrifying, and the politics intertwined with many facets of this ongoing operation as well as the big human emotions felt by many of those who find themselves in the eye of the storm: feelings like regret, fear, a kind of hallow satisfaction and, most of all, the dreaded feeling that you have gone too far and can never get back from where you are at. These qualities, which are astounding, are joined by Winslow’s propulsive, addictive narrative gifts that leave us weary and exhausted, but with the kind of glorious satisfaction you get from bearing witness to great story. In this one, which spans about 30 years, we meet five people who have more than just their hands in the drug trade. Art Keller, arguably the protagonist, is a DEA agent who witnesses, and has a hand in, the birth of what is going to be the most powerful and brutal drug empire in the world, and spends the next decades ruthlessly trying to destroy it. That empire, headed up by the smart but merciless Adan Barrera, has ties to politics, real estate, and an unlimited supply of almost omniscient power. The three other players are at first witnesses, than perpetrators and ultimately victims of this empire’s power: Nora Hayden, a mythically beautiful woman who uses her looks and covert wit to move up the ladder, with one scene, where she meets another of the main characters on her first night as a call girl brilliantly showing who she thinks and how broken she is, Sean Callen, an Irish hit man who murdered his way to the top becoming an unlikely hero in this story and Father Parada, a bishop whose faith is undying even amidst very human evil. This book is violent, one of the most violent, really, with many scenes of brutal, prolonged torture and murder that are never gratuitous, but are as jarring as you’d think, with one hundred page stretch, which I read in one sitting, having three moments that shook me to my core and ripped my guts out. This is a strong book that takes itself seriously, written with humility, wisdom and a desperate need to be honest about its subject matter, and succeeds gracefully. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.