Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: "Cutter and Bone" by Newton Thornburg

Reading a book as good, as original and as skillfully crafted as Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone is a true joy and revelation. It’s grim, yet self-aware tone, pitch perfect dialogue and rather sensible narrative put it in the same league as other classics of the noir genre, such as Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me and Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling. I can’t think of one false note it hit while looking back on it, and everything, from its dour opening scene to shocking ending, which both comes out of nowhere yet seems to be where the story was headed. It stays true to itself, even at the expense of its reader’s sensibilities and good taste. It’s an angry black comedy, where the readers find themselves laughing to avoid crying in despair. And, like most really good crime thrillers, it is entraining, and makes you think and feel on every page. It begins in a Santa Barbara motel room, where Richard Bone, a man who finds joy in nothing, especially his nonchalant charm with women that doesn’t seem to bring out the best in those who are attracted to him, is shaving himself with a ladies razor, remarking on the germs that he may be coming in contact with it belongs to a women he is seeing, although she doesn’t know that Bone doesn’t like her very much, and she is essentially paying for a gigolo. The scene where he leaves her after taking the last bit of her money is a rather graphic and disturbing scene of interpersonal cruelty, one that makes us question our faith in Bone and the sorrow we feel for him as the book goes on. On his walk home after getting drunk, he sees a dark figure dump the body of a young girl in a dumpster. He tells this to his friend, the other main character, Cutter (whose introduction is him purging himself in the bathroom), who Bone is living with temporarily. Cutter has a wife, Mo, who Bone is in love with, as well as a kid. But that doesn’t stop Cutter, a Vietnam vet whose body is ravaged by war wounds, from being one of the most deeply pessimistic characters in all of crime literature. Everything he says is dipped in casual, violent nihilism and a crooked worldview, making the desperate quest to find who Bone thinks the killer is, plausible and depressing. Watching these three people, Cutter, Bone and Mo, as well as a few well off yet masochistic friends of theirs, try to make sense of their lives and the squalor they live in is hypnotic and effortlessly realized by Thornburg’s prose and honest dialogue. Bone is a sad character, which floats through life and countless women; Cutter’s mere presence brings the worst out in everybody, characterized by a death 2/3 through the book, where his reaction is morbid and repugnant. It all leads to Cutter and Bone’s trip to the Ozarks to confront the alleged killer, a meat tycoon, with a sad outcome and the aforementioned shocking ending. This book isn’t fun. Although it is funny, but is fascinating, intriguing, and filled with a dark wisdom that ranks it among the greats of its genre.

Rating: 5/5

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