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The Power of the Dog

07 Jan 2016

I have seen The Power of the Dog on Amazon for quite some time now; the cover kept drawing my eye and the description was enough to have me put it on my wish list more than once forgetting that it was already there. I finally got around to reading it, and man was it good.

Not quite historical fiction, there is enough interplay with reality that really serves to drive this book forward. One would have thought this book to be pure insanity back in the early 80s, I mean would the US government ever really help foreign cocaine smugglers move drugs and weapons between Colombia, Mexico, and the US? Pure nutjob, conspiracy theory crap. Except this is essentially the cynical view of what the CIA really did. Maybe it is not just the cynical view, maybe it is just the abbreviated view. In any event, this book is solidly written with wonderful lines, great characters which are developed thorougly, and has a delightful interplay between different story lines, different locations, and different points in time.

I really like this style of writing. I am not sure if it even has a particular name. Don Winslow weaves some great lines throughout this book, such as

He half-expects to see blood in the bed -- his dreams are incarnadine; blood flows through them like a river, connecting one nightmare to another.

He also has an extensive vocabulary. The more I read, the more I am fascinated by the existence of words that describe a situation or feeling or color perfectly, where any other synonym would be lacking in specificity and depth. For instance, menagerie is a word I did not know existed before this book. The dictionary defines it as "a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition." An alternative defintion is "a strange or diverse collection of people or things." The former definition fits exactly into a couple scenes in the book, and I was thinking if I was writing this how would I have described a bunch of wild animals in kept in someones backyard in cages for the purpose of showing them off? At the same time, the latter definition also fits into describing the scene in a meta sense which gives even more power to that single word. This is where I personally feel that people involved in comparative literature and literary criticism can go off the reservation by calling this usage brillant assuming the author had both the surface intention as well as a deeper meta meaning intended by the use of this one word. Maybe he did.

But, in another situation, he used the exact same analogy, comparing oil rig pilot lights to some kind of street light in hell or something, within twenty or thirty pages of one another. It felt like he wrote these two parts indepedently, came up with this same analogy twice, and forgot that he had already used it. Then he merged those two parts together, and I was left feeling like it was an amateur move. The first time I saw the analogy, as he actually wrote it, I felt it was awesome. Then when I come across it again, I felt like it was really cheap and lessened the prior use.

Nevertheless, overally this book was exactly in my preferred style. The writing was descriptive and had a certain literary depth. The characters were relatable enough, but developed to the point of understanding their motivations even where they were not relatable. The entire plot was not too outrageous given the actualy reality of the drug wars of the 1970s through 1990s. I highly recommend this, and I plan to read his other book relatively soon as well.


Category: book