SNAKESKIN ROAD by James Braziel
“I tied the ropes around her wrists and ankles, tied her arms to her waist and legs, dumped her body in the back, secured her with the belts, and I took out the shotgun, angling the barrel into the floorboard on the passenger side. I left the Remington in the trunk with the propane tanks and food. Then I cranked the engine, reached back, and said, â€śDonâ€™t worry. Iâ€™m just taking you home.”
~Rosser, Bounty Hunter
Reviewed by Doug Bruns (JUL 28, 2009)
There is a time in the future, only 35 years from now, when everything has gone to hell. The government is bankrupt and the country has disintegrated, leaving behind a loose confederation of city-states. The environment, a result of climate change and a killer ozone hole, has become a threatening and ominous force, churning up deadly sand storms, and tree-killing carbon clouds. Domestic travel, once possible with a visa, no longer held, a consequence of a government withdrawn from all but a few regions. â€śFree zonesâ€ť are past things and getting to the â€śSaved Worldâ€ť is only possible through bribes, good fortune, luck and likely violence. â€śHarvesting Machinesâ€ť roam where people come together, for surly they will die of something sooner rather than later. The machines pick up the dead and shrink-wrap them, stacking cords of bodies for harvesting. This is a nightmare world from which no one awakens. Bounty hunters roam the landscape and human trafficking is accepted currency. The south is barren and pocked with clay mines where slaves work until they are spent. Sand storms blow large vehicles off the road. If you can somehow make your way north, to, say, Chicago, where the government still works and a semblance of law and order exists, you might live out your days in a less miserable more bearable place. But, as the saying goes, you canâ€™t get there from here.
This is the world as created by James Braziel in Snakeskin Road. Into it he drops Jennifer Harrison, aged 30 and pregnant. She is on her way north, to join her mother who nine years before, when visas actually meant something, left for Chicago, a Saved World city. Her husband, Matthew, a miner, has stayed behind in the south and promises he will follow her later, though she knows he wonâ€™t. We pick up Jennifer as things are starting to go from bad to very worse, and quickly. A monster sand storm has blown her bus clean off the road and tumbled it into a desert ditch. She survives, but is shaken, which is more than what many of her bus companions can claim. She is picked up by a patrol and taken to a fortressed city. There she finds a guia, a coyote, and hires him to take her north.
Braziel has created a world in which things cannot improve. And we, the readers are offered no relief or comfort. Our heroine is sold into slavery. She ends up in a brothel. A young girl, Mazel, abandoned by her mother to Jenniferâ€™s care goes missing. Jennifer loses her baby. Mazel returns, but has apparently attempted suicide. They escape the brothel at great risk. But we soon discover they are being tracked by a bounty hunter with the requisite moral and ethical lack. (He relates in a flashback how as a young lad he mocked his aged and near blind grandfather, stealing from him and insulting him with impunity.)
Braziel employes a device throughout the book, a one-sided correspondence from Jennifer to her mother, which works rather well. These letters afford us insight into her tribulations and thoughts. They give Jennifer a voice that is otherwise lacking, rendering her more likable, which was important to me because I found her to be a wooden and two-dimensional character. She lacks the capacity to solicit empathy from the reader. I believe this to be a shortcoming of the novel, but the argument could be made that the world in which she exists is so devoid of empathy, sympathy or even a modicum of civility, that she could be painted in no other fashion. I will give Braziel the benefit of the doubt on this matter, that he wrote her–and the other characters too, for that matter–in this fashion–flat–to reflect the world in which they struggle to survive. This book is a page turner, though exasperating. The style is at times detracting and awkward, which impedes an otherwise exciting narrative. I confess that I am not a frequent reader of science-fiction or post apocalyptic literature. Consequently, I found it challenging to release entirely to the experience as is necessary for clear-headed reading enjoyment. I remember my young son taking issue with a minor scene in one of the Star Wars movies. He found it, the scene, implausible, as if the rest of the movie was not. That seems to be at the core of my mixed feelings about this book. It is exciting and fast paced, but occasionally distractingly hackneyed and stilted.
Great writing has the capacity to inform the reader, among other virtues. Good writing makes us want to be informed, but doesnâ€™t usually deliver. Not to sound high falutin, but Snakeskin Road, like much writing in this genre, can inform, as well as entertain: What does the future hold? What possibly will the human species of North America experience in the coming generation? What are the consequences of our current actions on the world of say, 2044 (the setting for Snakeskin Road)? And bigger questions too. What is the core nature of our being, our society and our humanity? Snakeskin Road would have us believe we are in for it, a thorough thrashing, going forward. All evidence points to this assessment. My only hope is to personally avoid the Harvesting Machines.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||not yet rated by customers|
|PUBLISHER:||Bantam (July 28, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Snakeskin Road|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||James Braziel|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic-novels:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
Our American King by David Lozell Martin
The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
O-Zone by Paul Theroux
Bob Bridges by Penny Perkins