Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ravens, by George Dawes Green

It took me awhile to track down the title of the classic suspense film that this book got me thinking about, but I finally did. I saw The Desperate Hours more than once on television when I was a kid, and it freaked me out every time. A movie that talks about a suburban family being held hostage in their home in the quiet suburbs is going to have a special existential relevance for a kid growing up in a house in the, well, quiet suburbs. I'm kind of surprised my parents let me watch this, as I apparently wasn't even old enough to recognize Humphrey Bogart as one of the convicts.

George Dawes Green's recent suspense novel Ravens is perhaps more closely related to any number of home invasion movies since then. But I wouldn't know about that, as I still don't gravitate toward movies about hostage families to this day. However,Ravens sucked me right in.

Green's twist on what has now become almost a thriller sub-genre is decidedly his own, though. The villains of this tale, Shaw and Romeo, aren't convicts, but from the start you feel that it's only luck that's kept them out of trouble so far. As they head south on a Florida vacation, an opportunity to change all that is looming up before them.

"Winning the lottery" is usually trumpeted as a piece of great fortune, even though we've all read stories of how the lucky winners have frittered it all away, lost friends, or made false ones due to their changed circumstances. We don't usually think about how that very trumpeting makes them targets, though. And let's just say that after reading Ravens, you will never quite look at Facebook in the same way.

One difference I find between the "Desperate Hours" scenario and that of Ravens is that the Boatwrights are far from the generic, innocents of that 1950s setup. There's plenty of strife in this family before their ill-timed visitors ever cross the over the Georgia state line, and let's just say that winning the lottery was never destined to solve all their problems in the best of circumstances.

The dynamic between the hostage-takers--the charismatic Shaw and the baffled Romeo-- is in some ways the most interesting part of the book. Why does Romeo go along with Shaw in his scheme? Why do any of us ever "just go along" with the plans of those who, bitter experience has shown us, make poorer choices than we ourselves do? And what will happen to Tara, the daughter of the family and the most resourceful of them, who is also drawn by Shaw's charisma (and then some)?

The premise is, of course, in some ways far-fetched. It's not that simple holding a family hostage, especially when you are hiding the fact that you are holding them hostage. The Boatwrights are free to come and go, but psychologically, Shaw keeps everyone on one sort of leash or other. In fact, figuring out how to get others to comply may be as much why he's in it as the money.

It's certainly one of the reasons even someone generally averse to this kind of suspense--like me--is willing to go along for the ride.


  1. Ot, did you finish The Cockatoos? My favorite story was A Woman's Hand

  2. Not yet. I have been derailed from my own reading projects by having to get some things read for our store newsletter. Thanks for reminding me to bump it back up to the top of the pile.