Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kindle Review: CALIFORNIA by Ray Banks

You need long-term goals in order to make something of your life. That’s what they told Shug while he was in prison, advice that Shug ponders on and takes to heart. Now that he’s out, he’s singularly focused on that goal, trying to keep a handle on his short-fuse temper and keep his eyes on the prize.

But it’s harder to do than he could have guessed. When he shows up in his old stomping grounds in order to pick up the cash he had hidden before heading out to follow his dream, it leads to several run-ins with his old girl and his old crew, and Shug’s long-term goal begins to look longer and longer term.

CALIFORNIA, the latest novella from Ray Banks, is another expertly drawn character study, disguised as a violent, bleakly funny crime story. In some ways, it’s a bit of a heart-breaker. Banks is terrific at letting the reader know, in very subtle ways, that the whole venture is doomed from the start, that our man Shug is locked into a pattern and no amount of dreaming can change it.

Shug has come out of prison a different man, yes. He actually has a plan for his life now, some dream to cling to. But in CALIFORNIA, Banks questions the whole notion that a dream is a good thing to have. Does a long-term goal make Shug a better person? Does it guarantee his happiness? No, not at all. In fact, the great dream just might be the young man’s undoing.

It’s a very unsettling proposition, this idea that desire leads to ruin. And I don’t know, really, that that was Banks intention. But it resonates. And the inevitable disaster that follows on Shug’s heels is devastating to read. CALIFORNIA could very well be the most intensely compelling thing Ray Banks has yet written, and that’s saying a lot.

1 comment:

  1. I read this yesterday. Perfect review, Heath. I could not have said it any better. I love Banks' novellas, but they always leave me wanting more. It's perfect for reading between novels.