Book Review : Don Winslow - The Border (2019)
Pre-Order The Border here (official release date: February 26)
American author Don Winslow is primarily known for two things. The first being his revolutionary Californian drug novel Savages. It’s such a disarming and likable book, Oliver Stone decided to make it a movie two years later. The adaptation was infuriatingly flat, but it helped thousands of readers to discover Winslow’s work. Myself included. The other thing Don Winslow is known for is a sweeping Mexican drug cartels trilogy with tomes so big and heavy, you could use them to kill intruders. That trilogy is coming to an end next Tuesday (February 26) with the release of the final volume, prosaically called The Border.
I’ve read it and let me tell you: this book is going to make people talk.
The Border is tricky to discuss, because it’s entire premise relies on events happening at the end of The Cartel, the second book of the trilogy. Those who read it know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ll just say this: Art Keller’s war against the Mexican drug cartels is transported to American streets. He’s been given basically unlimited power with the DEA and has to use it to fight off a heroin epidemic that is partially born from his past wrongdoings. Of course, The Border doesn’t completely leave Mexico behind and introduces the future generation of narco-traffickers. And they’re not any nicer than their predecessors.
The idea that you can solve your problem through brute force, whether it’s intimidation, violence or murder, is thoroughly American. It’s been permeating their existence for centuries, from their foreign policy to their popular culture. That idea is at the heart of The Border. Or should I say the failure of that idea. Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy was essentially a genocidal battle of egos for the first twelve hundred pages, but it becomes something else in The Border. Once Art Keller’s war reaches the hallways of Washington, its outcome isn’t only dealt in bullets and explosions anymore, but in budgets, reports, personnel allocations and all sorts of abstract terms that further dehumanize the conflict.
And perhaps Don Winslow’s balancing act between the aspects of the war on drugs that don’t feel real and those that feel all too real is what The Border does best. It illustrates the utter complexity and inescapability of the issue. There’s too much embrodiered in the fabric of the war on drugs for it to ever go away. The producers are labeled to be the problem, but the market really is and the market for Mexican drugs is mostly in the U.S. The Border (and to a certain extent the entire Cartel trilogy) does a great job at explaining that we’re so obsessed with cutting the supply that we let users go to jail and fall to the fringes of society instead of regulating the market.
The Border is sometimes hard to follow because there was so many narrative fragments swirling around, but it all comes back authorities refusing to understand the problem for what it is. Winslow wraps his point up quite neatly, I must say.
If there’s an aspect of The Border I liked a little less, it’s the Donald Trump knockoff character John Dennison. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Don Winslow is one of Trump’s harshest critics and that having such a loon for U.S president is a big fucking problem, but how we’ve come to elect him president is complex fucking problem that might’ve required a 700 pages novel of its own. Thrown into the third volume of a trilogy about another problem like he was here, Dennison comes off as a simplistic and sometimes parodical add-on to a novel that could’ve required a tiny bit more focus.
So, The Border is a powerful and appropriate ending to Don Winslow’s Cartel trilogy. It didn’t make me feel melancholic or anything like that. These characters have said everything they had to say and I’m excited for Winslow to tackle another complex, systemic issue with his free flowing, bubble-gum prose *. These’s a lot about the book I haven’t said, but it’s impossible to discuss its ins and outs without discussing a huge plot twist you need to earn by reading The Power of the Dog and The Cartel. And I encourage you to do so. It’s a long, exhausting and thoroughly rewarding journey and perhaps the only work of fiction you’ll ever need to read about Mexican drug cartels.
* I mean that in the best possible way. His novels are long, but they take little effort to go through. They literally read themselves.