Tag Archives: lonesome animals

Book Review: Lonesome Animals

13074464In Lonesome Animals, ex-lawman Russell Strawl is drawn from retirement to track down a serial killer. Joined by his son Elijah – a drifter who fancies himself a Catholic prophet – Strawl follows the trail of bodies from place to place: always trying to get one step ahead, and always seeming to be one step behind. As the hunt lengthens, Strawl’s own dark and broken history is laid bare, leading in turn to shocking revelations about the killer’s identity.

Lonesome Animals is Bruce Holbert’s first novel – a bleak and bloody Western with noir sensibilities. It is also (for the most part) an exercise in style over substance, which is unfortunate, given Holbert’s tremendous pen-power. Let this be clear at the outset: I’m not questioning the man’s talent. But for a story with so much bark, the actual bite is more than a little underwhelming. Poetic prose and earnest dialogue abounds, as does grisly imagery; what’s missing is a point, a sense of purpose. But then maybe that is the point.

Holbert seems hell-bent on shattering popular romantic notions of the Wild West. And though I’m tempted to say there is no clear-cut good and evil in this story, that would be untrue. The evil is entirely clear-cut, thriving in these pages with a vibrant ugliness. The good, on the other hand, has already ridden off into the sunset. Search ye high and low, near and far – it is nowhere to be found.

And therein lies my biggest problem with Lonesome Animals. In his attempt to destroy what he perceives to be the Western ethos, Holbert unshackles the bull of nihilism and kicks it squarely in the gonads. You can imagine the chaos that ensues. The characters here wander through blood-soaked scene after blood-soaked scene, dealing out death and succumbing to it, with an unspoken question on their lips: “What’s the point?”

In the end, the answer seems to be that there is no point. Just a whole lot of violence and pain and anger, followed shortly by death. Deal with it.

Of course, I recognize that justice in a fallen world can be (and often is) a messy business. To pretend otherwise is to spit in the face of reality. But Holbert veers into a different kind of extreme: in his story, justice is an illusion. It’s hardly acknowledged, much less sought after or carried out. There is only darkness. Darkness and misery. The lonesome color on Holbert’s palette is pitch black, and his characters are saturated with it.

(I received this book for free in exchange for a review.
I was not required to write a positive review.)

On the Bookshelf XVIII

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All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Ken Meyers
Os Guinness’ recommendation: “A magnificent and timely book. Fresh, witty, informative, trenchant, and eminently sane, Ken Myers’s book is a must for thoughtful evangelicals… I only hope there are enough of them left to read it.” My second read through. Let me put it this way: if this book isn’t on your shelf, your library is incomplete.
Is Christianity Good for the World? by Christopher Hitchens & Douglas Wilson
Another re-read. It’s short, and best read in one sitting, but there are few things more entertaining than to watch Hitchens and Wilson go toe-to-toe in debate. This book also contains one of my favorite lines ever: “… for you to make this move would reveal the two fundamental tenets of true atheism. One: There is no God. Two: I hate Him.”
Lonesome Animals by Bruce Holbert
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a review, so I’ll be posting my full thoughts within the next week or so. Holbert’s novel has been hailed as heir to such classics as True Grit and Blood Meridian – that’s quite a bit to live up to. I trust the hype won’t have a spoiling effect.
The Presbyterian Doctrine of Children in the Covenant by Lewis Bevens Schenck
An Historical Study of the Significance of Infant Baptism in the Presbyterian Church.” Don’t let the mile long title scare you; this is excellent reading. I’ll probably follow it up with Douglas Wilson’s To A Thousand Generations.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. Whenever a story opens with a line like this – “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” – odds are you’re in for a treat.
Future Men by Douglas Wilson
I love this book. I’m going to run out of highlighter ink before I’m even halfway through. “True masculinity accepts responsibility, period, while false masculinity will try to accept responsibility only for success.”

What’s on your bookshelf right now?