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Lonesome Animals (not for the kids)

Just a little Friday afternoon share for you – a little violent tale for your weekend:

I’ve read some books with some pretty bad dudes in them before – James Crumley, Massimo Carlotto, etc – but the shifty, violent, unpredictable Sheriff Russell Strawl in Bruce Holbert’s Lonesome Animals takes the cake. In fact, he calmly takes the cake away from you, then comes back into your house with a bull and turns the bull loose after kicking it squarely in the balls. This isn’t a weird, crude reference I made up, mind you – he actually does this to a group of BIA agents in this book, maiming most of them in horrible ways and killing the bull in the process.

He also kills his wife with a frying pan on page 12 (spoiler alert!) – an unspeakably awful act that sets the tone for the rest of the journey Strawl takes. Can you really root for a guy like that? Well… not because of that, but… Okay, let’s back up a bit: the real story here is that Strawl, former sheriff of Okanogan County, WA has been dragged out of retirement to track down whoever has been brutally murdering Native Americans across his remote section of Washington state in the 1930’s. (And I mean brutally, as in dismemberment, wiring mouths shut, decapitation, disemboweling. Hey, it’s a great book club pick!) Holbert (a debut novelist and an Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduate – although I won’t hold that against him) uses some pretty sparse, easy-flowing prose to get this story out and despite the fairly awful nature of it all, it bursts to life on the page. The dusty landscape of this still-far western frontier is super-vivid and populated by odd folks pulled right from a Coen brothers film. Plus you’ve gotta love the moral dilemma that Strawl presents you as a reader. Yeah, he’s a piece of shit who murdered his wife and does stuff like this while questioning people about the killer:

Strawl cursed Marvin, then set the pistol against the old woman’s ear, barrel up, and fired. She cried out. Blood from her eardrum spattered his wrist. Marvin knelt to receive his wife as she collapsed to the ground. Strawl looked at the two of them beneath him.

“You tell me if you hear of him or I’ll do her other ear.”

In fact, his reputation is so bad that most people he encounters just assume that he’s the killer. But because of the nature of his quest – the, dare I say, nobility of it, trying to put an end to these horrifying killings – you are left with no choice but to pull for him in some way. The lesser of two evils, perhaps, but Strawl is a far more palatable evil than the creature doing all the butchering.

Well, anyway, maybe Lonesome Animals just acted as an antidote to the crappy book I finished before it, but it really reminded me a lot of Blood Meridian or True Grit or Far Bright Star – not just in the violence but more in the style of prose, being so spare and raw throughout. So hey, if those types float your boat – as they do mine – get it in gear & check this one out.


3 comments on “Lonesome Animals (not for the kids)

  1. Cat Allen
    August 26, 2012

    WONDERFUL book that draws you in and just won't let go… Bruce Holbert's easy way with prose makes you feel like you, or someone you know, might actually know these characters in this or a past life. Despite the shudderingly violent actions depicted in the story (it's about a serial killer, after all!),Holbert presents a landscape that is beautiful in it's severity, and slowly, slowly, builds an empathy for his protagonist that is undeniable as it forces us to examine the dark parts of our own psyches.

  2. Julia Drake
    June 11, 2014

    Hi Marco,

    Thanks for this wonderful review of Bruce Holbert's Lonesome Animals. I'm working with him on his second novel, The Hour of Lead (Counterpoint/July 2014). Would love to send you a copy if you're interested. Here's what Kirkus Reviews had to say:

    “Holbert’s work rings out with the hard, clean truths of love and loyalty, family and friendship, all flowering from thickets of poetic language, some simple (“work was praying the same prayer everyday”), some gut-wrenching (“When he finally took the baby from her and held her bloody stillness in his hands, he wept”)… Holbert's powerful work echoes the romance of America’s Western experience. A masterpiece.” —Kirkus Review * Starred*

    Let me know!


  3. Julia Drake
    June 11, 2014

    Oh my! Never submit comments right after you wake up. Seth, so sorry about the misnomer. In my defense, my first boyfriend was name Marco:-)

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This entry was posted on August 25, 2012 by in Bruce Holbert, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, review.
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