Friday, January 03, 2020

1. Bearskin by James McLaughlin

I read this brief review by blogger John Oak Dalton whose taste I admire over a year ago and had been naively looking for Bearskins as a used book.  I finally asked for it for xmas and got it from my parents.  I think it was fairly succesful (at least critically), so not sure why it never turned up used but after reading it I am happy to help add a few more coins McLaughlin's profits.  This was a fantastic read, a great way to kick of the new year and decade.  I stayed up late reading it and then got up early on New Year's Day to finish it.

Bearskins is the kind of book that you want to give to certain of your manly friends who are literate but may not have read anything in a while.  If you know my tastes and personal politics, you will understand why I found the premise so compelling.  Rice Moore is on the run from the cartel and takes a job as a caretaker on a natural reserve in the Appalachians.  It is owned by a rich family and part of his job is to ensure that the locals don't do any poaching.  We learn early that though a thoughtful, educated person with a background in science, Moore has somehow a history of violence and may in fact be quite a badass.  When he discovers a bear carcass on the reserve, with its paws cut off and it's insides cut open but otherwise left to rot, he decides to investigate and stop whoever is doing this.  At the same time, we slowly learn about his backstory that led him to this solitary life.

This is a great male fantasy, I suspect especially for the more left-leaning environmentally aware reader who also loves his pulp fiction.  McLaughlin does an excellent job of constructing a new "woke" male hero.  Sexual violence is partially a plot driver and character-motivator here, which generally is a no-no for me. Somehow Mclaughlin elides around it that it avoids being the simplistic cliche of dude getting revenge and free to kick ass now that his woman is taken from him.  Rather we have a guy who is also a victim of trauma, who understands the trauma of other victims and is just trying to get on with his life.  The hunt for the bear poachers becomes a more general raison d'être as does his connection with the old growth forest he is trying to protect.

There are so many great elements here and it all comes together in some super-satisfying elite ass-kicking.  You get the tense relationship with the good and bad rednecks, multiple levels of badassery, respectable (local) and shitty (the feds, of course) law enforcement, some batshit back to nature stuff all add up to an all-around great time.

One thing about these new literary fiction pulp books is that they are so well-crafted.  I guess in today's market, you can no longer just crank out a story with an excellent plot.  It has to be workshopped with your local writing group, go through multiple revisions and every sentence nuanced so that it is almost poetry.  The writing here is straightforward and solid but it all feels so perfectly finished.  I suspect it took McLaughlin a long time.  This is not really a criticism, just an observation as there is a certain preciousness with the trade dress and the style of the writing that doesn't totally jibe with the subject matter. Hey, if more people buy it and he can write more books along this line, I am not complaining.

1 comment:

John Oak Dalton said...

Thanks for the shout out and glad you enjoyed!