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Lauren O’Brien talked me into pulling this out of my TPR pile. I managed to tip the pile, and had to crawl behind the entertainment center to retrieve a stack of book.

Totally worth it.

I’ve always liked Steinbeck. His ability to tell an entertaining story with characters who seemed real and genuine, people of the lower and struggling classes, people like those I’m related to, grew up with. People like the ones in Dove Season.

And yes, Johnny Shaw is like an extra-sweary, extra-drunk, ribald, modern-day Steinbeck. And it’s not just his down-to-earth (salt-of-the-earth even, though he pokes fun at the expression) collection of Imperial Valley residents. It’s in the descriptions, too.

Just the first few paragraphs are so delightful I think I made everyone I passed read them.

There is something about the desert that pisses everything off. 

It could be the heat. Or the barren landscape. Or the stark desolation. It doesn’t matter the why. The fact is the desert brings out the desperate worst in a thing. In an environment where nothing is meant to survive, life seethes.

In the desert even the plants have chips on their shoulders. They’re water-starved and sunburned fighters. Forced to wrestle their way through rock and earth. Cactus, yucca, and saw grass can all draw blood. No one goes to the desert to see the fall colors, mostly because those colors are an unbeautiful shade of brownish.

There are no cute calendars devoted to the creatures of the desert floor. Whether a rattlesnake or a scorpion or a centipede, under every rock some scaly, poisonous monster waits for the chance to bite the next unsuspecting ankle. Even a desert hare will take a finger off the dumbass that tries to pet it. If the desert can make a bunny that angry, imagine what it does to the people.

Jimmy Veeder has gone home to visit his dying father, maybe talk out some things they never talked about – his father’s old war stories, life before he was born and his mother died, that sort of thing. His dad? He doesn’t want flowery speeches or maudlin conversations about death. Doesn’t want to dredge up the past too much either. He’s after two things: The Big Laugh and a Mexican hooker named Yolanda.

Things don’t go well, a very funny romp across the border ensues, people die, and things get real.  Just know that finding Yolanda only causes more problems and strap in for the ride.

The structure is two-part, each with its own death and the consequences thereof, consequences that merge together like DNA to form a zygote. The novel, though, is no zygote. Fully formed, beautifully written. And funny. Touching, but really funny.

Pros: Terrifically written, well-paced, great plot, wonderfully real characters. Nuances and beer brawls…. It has a lot for almost everyone

Cons: If you have issues with beer, swearing,… if you see moral issues as clear-cut and unchanging, or you prefer reading about rich people doing fancy things, this might not be the book for you.

Bottom line: If you love story, read this book.

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