"LET'S FIND OUT WHY I LIKED IT" -- 2 MORE 'SNAKES' REVIEWS
Today, links to two more reviews of Are Snakes Necessary?
James Scott Byrnside, jamesscottbyrnside.com:
Let’s get a few things out of the way. From what I know about my readership, none of you would like this book. It contains nothing in the way of detection (although surprise and suspense abound). The tone could best be described as luridly trashy, but even that wouldn’t give you a sense of the plot’s sex-leads-to-death ethos. The men are uniformly piggish and the women uniformly naked. One plot thread (of the three) ends in such dreamlike fantasy (with huge stretches of character logic–a stranger told me to throw my laptop into the ocean? Sure.) that I cannot imagine GAD fanatics going along for the ride. Occasionally, the book makes a nod to its film-noir roots:
In another world, one before cancer and surgeon generals, he would light a cigarette, probably Marlboro, and slowly inhale.
But mostly it’s a book of bad people screwing, plotting, and killing. (The title of a future book!)
So now that I’ve told you why you’ll hate it, let’s find out why I liked it. ASN is a screenplay that has been novelized. The first-person POV and the chapter head hopping are not new, but the novel’s insistence on playing as a series of set pieces make it a remarkably visual experience. The scenes are short, the transitions quick, and the backstory terse. By the time you reach the Eiffel Tower (where a French remake of Vertigo is being filmed — oh yeah, it’s that kind of story) you may not even notice the jet-propelled narrative changing to an almost literal description of shots. The plot is suitably twisty.
Thread 1: A philandering Senator (Lee Rogers) begins an affair with a videographer (Fanny Cours) on the campaign trail. Twenty years prior, he had been involved with Fanny’s mother. His wife is currently suffering the initial stages of Parkinson’s. (Swell guy) His fixer Barton Brock is weary of the affair and more than willing to end it by any available means, especially after Fanny falls in love.
Thread 2: Elizabeth Diamond is a bombshell sexpot married to an abusive husband. One day, she meets Nick, a studly photographer who hit it big years ago but now finds himself struggling for inspiration. They carry on a torrid affair until she decides to leave her husband. He brings her to a casino to grab a few things and she vanishes. Despondant, he goes to Paris.
Thread 3: I can’t tell you about thread 3. The first rule of ASN Club is you don’t talk about thread 3.
So, why not film this instead of writing it? (I don’t mean to discount Susan Lehman’s contributions, but it’s almost certain he told her the story and she whipped it into readable shape) The answer sadly, involves the financial burdens of modern cinema. Because DePalma’s eclecticism doesn’t translate to huge box-office returns (or any in some cases), he has made very few films in the last twenty years. It’s a horrible loss for cinema. Here’s someone who actually knows how to put a film together writing a novel. It’s not right.
The final set-piece on the Tower, the controlled horror when the mother reveals her secret, and the (yes) naked swim in the ocean whilst planning murder are all wonderful sequences that should be on a big screen. I’d list all the DePalma hallmarks, but this review would go on far too long. I’ll just say the dreamy malevolence of his best films’ finales and his voyeuristic obsessions are well represented here.
As I focus my blog on detective fiction, I can’t in good faith recommend ASN. However, I think my review will tell you if you want to read it. Basically, if you like DePalma, you’ll like this. I do and did.
Justin Partridge, Rogues Portal
Though the extemporaneous writing style and somewhat dated language peppered throughout the novel might keep it from being an instant pulp classic, Are Snakes Necessary? is an appropriately nasty, page-turning new effort from De Palma and Hard Case Crime.
Senator Lee Rogers and his brutish fixer Barton Brock are powerful men. These men are so powerful that women like young videographer Fanny Cours and down-on-her-luck waitress Elizabeth deCarlo barely even register to them. But when all four are pulled into each other’s orbit, all in the shadow of back-to-back senatorial campaigns, what follows is a tension-packed tale of sex, betrayal, and murder. Working with a fairly lean cast and surprising scope of time, De Palma and Lehman hit the ground running in this debut novel.
The pair pounce from lead to lead, employing a sort of loose mix of first and third-person viewpoints, and establishes a quick pace from the jump. Each chapter is only a few pages long, which gives the novel overall a breezy, quicksmart pacing. This both works well for and against the novel. At its best, it keeps the action of the novel clipping along, injecting a real compulsory feeling into the prose as you barrel from scene to scene. In other sections, it comes across truncated and neglects certain main cast members. Elizabeth, in particular, drops out of the book for a stretch only to pop back up again later.
There is also the matter of De Palma and Lehman’s choice of language in certain parts. Though seemingly set in the “present” (though time is seldom concretely established outside of background information), the pair saddle some characters with jarring older turns of phrase or anachronistic pop culture references. This clash also extends to Fanny, who, being the youngest character of the cast at 18, is cursed with a slightly tone-deaf approximation of “youth speak.” She’s given a few “as ifs” and Valley Girl bubbliness undercutting her righteous anger at the men of this story.
But even these are just slight bumps in the lurid fun of the whole story. Armed with an almost curt tonality and constant twists, De Palma and Lehman deliver some grade-A choice pulpiness, quickly setting the table of the story only to upend the whole thing once they so. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sections set in Las Vegas and Paris. Our tale of “dirty politics” takes a fun turn into film theory edged with the classic pulp set up of a mafia moll taking a younger, unsullied lover from outside of “The Life.” To spoil how these cities connect to our main narrative would be to give away the book’s best secrets. Trust me when I say, it’s all one hell of a read.