I've never been too impressed by people who need slang, clothes, and things to advertise their cool. I'm probably more tolerant of it now than when I was younger, because it's kind of cute to see people try on and discard personas like underwear. I guess I'm tolerant, less judgemental, more relaxed. Wiser maybe? "Get hip, take a long ride on my motorbike."
So what the hell does that have to do with Savages? Quite a bit actually.
Its main characters are young. In a way, they have a lifestyle, rather than a life. They grow and sell high quality marijuana. Ben's knowledge makes their product line unique. He's got a scientist's, an artist's, a naturalist's approach to the plants. His partner Chon is a cold-blooded killer, a former Navy SEAL, whose services are rarely used, maybe only once. They're friends first, business partners second. They hang out in an expensive house in Laguna Beach. They share a rich girl named O. They love her. She loves them. There's not much to say about her except that she loves shopping and sex, but their love is important. It drives the plot. I've had friends whose choices in partners baffled me too, so I can go with it. Some of you might really go with it. These characters live in California. They have sun, they have money. Envy and admire if you like.
So, I could take the main characters with a grain of salt. They were okay, but I did not find them personally fascinating, but if Ben had narrated... that might have completely won me over because Ben transforms during the story. To see that up close would have been great.
Here's what I really liked about Savages: the plot, the story itself, the complete cast of characters, and the writing style.
I've read one other Winslow book. His writing style here was completely different. His short, truncated lines often resembled those YA novels that are written as free verse. I was floored by how well that style really worked for this story. Sometimes Winslow even broke apart a sentence, finishing it on the next line. I never found the free verse like style obtrusive or gimmicky. It always served the story to great effect. Some scenes were short. The narrative popped in, popped out, rendering the action or scene with only a minimum amount of phrases and some dialogue, but I never felt it was too sparse. The story rolled on and I was not lost.
I've said my bit about the main characters. One reason Ben couldn't narrate this is because Winslow shows things Ben did not see or know. We dip into the heads of a lot of interesting characters and Winslow builds our knowledge of them, in his stealthy, abbreviated way. One of the great pleasures of the book were the glimpses of all these various players: crooked DEA agents, the head of the Baja Cartel, various Baja Cartel employees.
I'm not going to detail plot twists. In a nutshell: Ben and Chon's incredible marijuana gig becomes a liability when it attracts the attention of the Baja Cartel. Like Ben and Chon, the Baja Cartel likes money's usefulness, its necessity for maintaining one's lifestyle. They recognize that Ben and Chon's operation is special, too special for them to simply take over, so they want a cut and they set the terms. It's a clash of cultures, attitudes and lifestyles. A culture clash between those with options and those without. Ben just wants them to take his business. He'd rather move on and get involved in renewable energy, but, you know, the Baja Cartel does not get that, it just does not compute, so they do something to motivate Ben and Chon to stay on and manage.
I haven't seen the movie or any trailers, but my brother told me the characters were cardboard. Unfortunately, to some extent, that must mean Oliver Stone stayed true to the book, at least in that regard. Ben and Chon and O are differentiated by details, but are not really given the power of life. I'm not really even sure if I know enough about them to decide if I would want to drink a beer with them (good thing none of them are running for President).
But this story has a lot of great things going for it. Read it.