You may think that is obvious. It is. But you would be amazed at how many writers think they create scenes like that --- and how few actually do it.
"Savages," Don Winslow’s 13th novel, is a textbook case of great drama.
Like this: Ben went to Berkeley. “Double major --- botany and marketing, and no one asked what he was up to.” Chon was a SEAL in Afghanistan, where he learned that, after the first kill, it’s just a matter of putting assholes to sleep. They're partners in a successful business: marijuana. How successful? Ben and Chon have a network of salesmen, a condo on a bluff overlooking the beach, and a playmate, the beautiful Ophelia. (Or O, as in Multiple O.)
So why, at the start of the book, is Chon watching a video of nine decapitated head?
Because the Mexican cartel wants to expand into Southern California.
Think the heroes have a problem?
Oliver Stone did. And he's amped it up into the summer's hottest movie for grown-ups. The New York Times review was a rave:
“Savages” is a daylight noir, a western, a stoner buddy movie and a love story, which is to say that it is a bit of a mess. But also a lot of fun, especially as its pulp elements rub up against some gritty geopolitical and economic themes. Rather than grandstand about these, the filmmakers embed them in a story full of ambushes, betrayals and bloody reprisals, mostly carried out by an especially vivid cast of villains and double dealers.
Here's a preview:
The movie is, in its modern, amoral way, a kind of romp. The book is even more fun. But let's be clear: amoral. The author seems to find no moral flaw in smoking (and growing) marijuana, frequent sex (including a threesome) and crime (lots of it, starting with the horticulture, moving on to the bribing of a DEA agent and culminating in mayhem). If that bothers you, I guess you're entitled, though I do hope you also disapprove of lying Wall Street bankers, politicians who become lobbyists, and so on. [To buy the paperback fom Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
So...assuming you're jiggy with the amorality, let's talk about dope. Not the quality that your dealer delivers or your friend grows in her back yard. We're talking professional grade: "a plant that could almost get up, walk around, find a lighter, and fire itself up. Read Wittgenstein, have deep conversations about the meaning of life with you, cocreate a television series for HBO, cause peace in the Middle East.” Or, to put it in terms we all understand: You shouldn’t operate machinery if you take more than one hit.
Funny stuff --- until the Mexican cartel arranges a meeting at a luxury hotel:
The two Cartel reps show up in Armani….Jaime and Alex are your classic early-Thirties, Tijuana-spawned, San Diego-born, dual-passport Baja aristocracy. Went to school in TJ until they were thirteen, then moved to La Jolla so they could attend the Bishop’s School, then college in Guadalajara. Jaime is an accountant, Alex is a lawyer.
Very civilized. Very….American. But not to Ben and Chon’s taste, though they “appreciate the irony that the Mexicans basically want to turn them into field workers.”
You have to love irony when it shows up in a book about business. And you have to love a writer who breaks rules --- especially given the subject matter. Here is a page of this novel:
“Are you going to take the deal?” O asks.
Chon snorts, “No.”
He turns off the laptop and begins reassembling the pretty gun.
Which means your fingers will fly. You will be desperately amused. And sucked into Ben and Chon’s world, just because it’s so freakishly different from anything you know as reality.
Which is one of Winslow’s main points: We know nothing. And soon we’ll know less --- in Mexico, the drug violence is so extreme that reporters don’t dare write about it, lest they get blown away. And this violence is, in fact, crossing the border. Of course all of this could change if we legalized marijuana and let a million-plus mostly African American men out of jail for minor drug offenses --- and none of that will happen, because our national discourse is so addled that a great many of us actually think the worst Mexican criminals are men and women who come to America in search of a living wage.
Winslow’s rage at our stupidity and hypocrisy surge in this novel. So he rubs our faces in violence. I hated that this was the case --- a gun appears, and I get sweaty --- but the real subject of “Savages” is how certain scenarios limit your thinking and make you feel you have no choices: “If you let people believe that you’re weak, sooner or later you’re going to have to kill them.”
if you are willing to deal with the inevitability of very ugly shit --- that is: If you can stand to pay for your pleasure --- most of this novel will delight you more than any hydro Ben could grow.