Cutter and Bone BOOK review



Book Reviews
Cutter and Bone BOOK review
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Mar 1, 2001, 01:36

CUTTER AND BONE by Newton Thornburg; Serpent's Tail reissue, 2001

It's refreshing to see small presses like Serpent's Tail flourishing in today's slick publishing climate. With a roster that includes diverse contemporary voices like Manuel Vasquez Montalban, Barry Graham, and George Pelecanos, as well as noir legends such as Horace McCoy and David Goodis, it remains one of the most interesting publishers around. We have Pelecanos to thank for urging Serpent's Tail to reissue Newton Thornburg's largely forgotten 1976 classic, Cutter and Bone. Although he enjoyed a brief time in the limelight with the success of the film version of the novel, Cutter's Way (which, incidentally, is well worth seeking out), Thornburg has all but faded into obscurity.

Set in the stoned, disillusioned wake of the Vietnam War, the novel chronicles the lives of two survivors, the handsome, drunken ladies man, Richard Bone, and his best friend, Cutter, a badly maimed and shell-shocked vet. One night a shit-faced Bone witnesses a girl's body being dumped in an alleyway. Though he can't quite make out the killer's features, Bone later thinks he recognizes him when he sees a news photo of a prominent local business mogul. He mentions this to Cutter, who becomes obsessed with the idea of wreaking havoc on this hick tycoon, whom he sees as emblematic of the corrupt, fucked-up system that produced the horrors of My Lai, and that continue to exploit the weak and powerless.

This is no traditional crime novel; indeed, Cutter and Bone has always reminded me of Robert Stone's masterpiece, Dog Soldiers, with perhaps a healthy shot of Crumley. As Pelecanos points out in his excellent introduction, “the idea that a murder can be “solved” is the Great Lie of the mystery novel to begin with, and here the author turns that peculiar notion on its soft head. For once, a writer chooses not to patronize us, singing us softly back to sleep as one would a child awakened by a nightmare. Thornburg tells us, very plainly, that the nightmare is real.

-Patrick Millikin


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