Ravens By George Dawes Green
A brainwavez.org Literary Review

South Africa By: Lenina Rassool on 2 June 2010
Category: Books > Reviews
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On its jacket Ravens is described as a "terrifying, gripping, unique" work of "psychological suspense". Instead, I found an appealing but B-grade narrative with lacklustre characters and a predictable plot.

Ravens by George Dawes GreenI can't say that I've read George Dawes Green's previous bestsellers, The Caveman's Valentine and The Juror, but after finding out that he waited 14 years to write and publish this mediocre work of fiction, I'm even more disappointed. I've dreamt stories more interesting than this one. While the storyline is not too bad - an ordinary family living in the dead-end town of Brunswick, Georgia, in the US, wins the lottery and is taken hostage for the ransom of half of its winnings - it is the average characters and a conclusion so predictable that I didn't dare predict it that killed the plot. What makes this book somewhat appealing, however, is the twist in which the robbers only want half of the money and the plan they hatch to make the public and lottery board believe they're legitimately entitled to it.

The first half of the book focuses on building the characters, each with their own personal curse, and it takes some effort slogging through all the bleak introductions. Mitch, the father in the Boatwright family, is a God-fearing and ridiculously mundane character who goes about his daily routine in ignorance of his family's unhappiness. Patsy, the mom, is an alcoholic who constantly complains about their finances and is obsessed with winning the lottery. Jase, the youngest, is a spoilt little brat who his older sister, Tara, cannot stand, while she dreams of the day she can escape "The Wicks" (Brunswick). The robbers, Shaw and Romeo, display a sort of master-servant relationship, established in high school when the popular kid (Shaw) took the school nerd (Romeo) under his wing. Even though both of them have ended up in the same dead-end career, Romeo remains fiercely loyal to Shaw to the point at which he fights his placid nature and prepares himself to kill every extended Boatwright family member if anything happens to his best friend. To him it's simple - without Shaw, his life has no meaning.

The story begins with Patsy winning the lottery on a Wednesday night and Shaw taking the family hostage on the following Thursday afternoon. The rest of the plot unfolds over the next five days as Shaw sets the scene for his share of the win with a story of a lost soul (himself) who happened to be visiting Mitch, the man who helped him get his life back on track a few years earlier. During the visit they buy a winning lottery ticket together and Mitch is honest enough to split the money with him. The tale inadvertently takes on a religious twist as the public attributes the lottery win as a gift from God and Shaw as the disciple chosen to receive it. As hoards of people start arriving to praise this "blessing", Shaw - who had led a rather insignificant, timid life up to this point - adopts a God complex and sets up a religious camp to fuel the delusion. This is where the title's reference to ravens is most fitting as, according to Support Native American Art, the raven is considered to be a symbol of the creator as well as a trickster.

What Green does get right, though, is getting the morals of his story across. The first has a cautionary tone and describes how easy it now is to find people via the Internet. As a journalist, I've always been amazed at the number of people - from police officers to politicians - who have their cellphone numbers floating around in cyberspace. Green's scene in which Shaw takes to the Web and manages to track down the winning family armed only with its surname, the name of the family's church, and the fact that Mitch owns a copier store had me mentally auditing the amount of information I've got out there. Once he'd identified the family, mapping web sites showed him aerial views of the Boatright's home and Tara's MySpace page gave him everything else he needed: information on members of the extended family, what everyone looks like, and who Tara loves most in the world. The second, more profound message is based on the old adage that money is the root of all evil and doesn't - in fact - equal happiness. This is not only because winning the lottery attracted kidnappers but by the ease with which Patsy mentally divides her fortune between a home in Malibu, an enormous yacht, holidays around the world, and staff to maintain all of it, and realises that $164 million (half of their winnings) is not that much after all.

However, it's the concluding lesson - pride comes before the fall - that brings about Shaw's downfall. Towards day five of his scheme, Shaw becomes so consumed by power that he fails to notice Romeo's increasing feelings of being left out as Shaw enjoys the glory and gets all the girls. Shaw also forgets that, at the end of the day, no matter how much the Boatwrights seem to have submitted to him, he is still their enemy. In certain Native American folktales the raven's role as trickster is reversed and his victims end up cheating him, which provides the title of this book with an additional level of symbolism.

The review copy of Ravens by George Dawes Green was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including Kalahari.net, loot.co.za, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

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Rating: 3/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: Ravens
Author: George Dawes Green
ISBN/EAN: 9781847442888
Publisher: Sphere, and imprint of Little, Brown
Edition: First
Year: 2009 (15 July 2009)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Dimensions: 155x240x29mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: crime, cult, drama, family, fiction, murder

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