Book Review : Jason Starr - Savage Lane (2015)
I should not have enjoyed Jason Starr's Savage Lane as much as I did. This novel is vile, gruesome and puts on display the very worst mankind has to offer. Now, I usually love vile and nihilistic fiction if there's a cathartic quality to it. Nothing gets me going like a protagonist who triumphs over scumbags by being even worse than them. But it's not the case here and yet, I couldn't stop reading. What is Savage Lane's dysfunction and what has it done to me? Let's get into it and let me warn you, it's not going to be pretty.
Savage Lane is the story of Karen Daily, a newly divorced mother of two, living in an idyllic New York suburb. Everything is fine and dandy until she gets assaulted by her neighbor Mark's wife Deb at the country club, over cheating allegation she doesn't quite understand. She doesn't know that Mark's been developing a pretty unhealthy crush on her and that he's been gleefully forsaking both his responsibilities and common sense in order to act on his fantasies. And by avoiding responsibilities, I mean not looking for his own wife after she mysteriously disappears...
The cast of Savage Lane is absolutely fascinating. They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Even Karen Daily, who's the de facto protagonist, is way too deep in denial until shit hits the fan to appear sympathetic. But that's the thing. They are such caricatures of real human being, it's difficult to have normal expectations towards them. Not having anyone to root for actually works in Savage Lane's favor. It becomes somewhat of a carnival where the wealthy and superficial drown in their own bullshit. It's cathartic in its own way.
In other words, Savage Lane had a Coen-esque deadpan quality that made it work. Mark was, by far, my favorite character. He was so far up its own ass, projecting his unhealthy fantasies on his wife and children, that he came up like the most human of them all. We all have secret fantasies about our lives to a certain degree, whether they're libidinous or not. Mark was no doubt a monster, but this is what good monsters do. They show us taboos and unspoken impulses separated from their context, so that we can either judge or embrace them. It's a process called abjection. And Mark was a pretty abject human being.
I loved Savage Lane even if it made me want to take a shower after reading it. It was confronting in the most relentless and nihiistic way possible, but it had this absurd sense of humor that acted as a safety valve and shifted gears whenever it was getting dark for the sake of being dark. Savage Lane was my first experience with Jason Starr, but that beautiful edition I read revealed on the inside cover that he wrote about plenty of other contemporary issues that range from cold calling to anxiety. I see you, Jason Starr. Consider yourself on my radar.