Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ravens / by George Dawes Green

The Boatwrights of Brunswick, Georgia are typical (though not stereotypical) southerners. Not establishment, not country club, not new money but not trailer trash. They're small towners with customarily demure small town ways. But like all Americans, they dream big. Especially mom Patsy, whose weekly devotion to the state lotto drawing is a religion unto itself, and college-age daughter Tara whose more modest ambitions include community college and moving out of the house. Dull-but-honest father Mitch, owner of a copy shop, and 8-year-old Jase tend to go with the flow orchestrated by their female counterparts. Their lives all change one Saturday night when Patsy's dream (unbeknownst to Patsy initially; Tara possessing the winning ticket) inconceivably comes true--to the tune of $318 million.

Friends since way back, Shaw and Romeo are two jobless nobodies escaping their dingy Ohio roots and heading south where ambitions of a better life in sunny Florida await their pending arrival. But when, by chance, they stop off at a gas station where a winning lotto ticket was recently purchased, their palm-tree dreams are delayed just a tad so they (particularly Romeo) can cook up an extortion scam to get at least a piece of all that money; of which the winner, being from this podunk nowheresville, would never know what to do with anyway. And so, using a some quite orthodox methods of finding their prey--a hint overheard at the gas station leading to some savvy cross-referencing of a few online business directories and social networks--the pair are in a position to execute what they feel is a convenient enough heist. But when their amateurish plan is put into motion, unforeseen variables inevitably create a far more complicated scenario than originally anticipated.
Green, author of Caveman's Valentine, knows how to write characters. The story's four or five primary people are well-enhanced, each fleshed out enough to keep the reader interested and reinforce the authenticity in what's really an oft-conceived premise, providing welcomed simplicity and a straightforward method to executing the plot. Books about lottery winners can easily become outrageous or ridiculous, but Ravens executes the story with more practicality than most. Tara's reactions, especially, are refreshingly realistic, mirroring most people's vision of what they would do if it happened to them--calmly and discretely going about their business as if nothing special happened all the while excitedly plotting a long-subdued fantasy life. Part black comedy, part thriller and part love story, the book's multiple narrative style handles things well. What's intended to be a critical crisis situation comes across in pragmatic but unpredictable fashion, the reader in on things with a good feel for the primary players involved, but still pleasantly surprised by twists and developments along the way.

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