Book Review : Robert Dean - The Red Seven (2016)
The Red Seven is a novel written by Texas-based author Robert Dean. It would be best described as a blood-soaked Western with mythological undertones. Westerns are a tricky genre to write given our tendency to constantly revise history and apply contemporary values and judgments to a foregone era. There's no way around it, so Western writers need to acknowledge the issue, but not too much. I can't imagine anything more boring and incoherent than a Western with gender studies sensibilities. The world was shitty back then and people dealt with it, so these are stories that Western readers want. Robert Dean took an ambitious bet and navigated the ideological mindfuck of Western fiction. The Red Seven couldn't avoid every pitfalls of contemporary Westerns, but revealed a singular and exciting new talent.
The story of The Red Seven is quite simple. So simple in fact, it could've been titled 7 Assassinations and it wouldn't have been inaccurate. The novel begins with the massacre of a peaceful family by seven horsemen looking for the patriarch's brother, a man only known as The Ghost. They made a crucial mistake by leaving their signature behind: the number 7 painted in blood on their victims' front door. The rest of The Red Seven consists basically of The Ghost, traveling across the land, dragging the retired (or semi-retired) members of the Red Seven out of whatever hole they're hiding and putting them in pine boxes one by one. Because that's what you did back then: when somebody did you wrong, it was your responsibility to restore balance and make an example out of them, so people would know to leave you the fuck alone.
The Red Seven was obviously influenced by the writing of Cormac McCarthy, yet isn't a copycat. Robert Dean's prose is very much his own and his imaginary has this colorful, extravagant quality the master's simply doesn't have. The Red Seven would've been a terrific graphic novel. McCarthy's influence is more palpable in Dean's use of Biblical themes and symbols throughout his novel. I don't think the book is particularly religious, but Christianity is pervading every character's action and decision and what I truly enjoyed about the book is Robert Dean's keen understanding of Biblical reappropriation. The Ghost is motivated by the Old Testament's "eye for an eye" law of retaliation. He's perhaps more of an agent of retribution than a bona fide character, but he's really taking down evil. The Red Seven represent the deadly sins of America, which Dean shrewdly illustrates with the mythical imagery of every chapter.
So yeah, there definitely is a lot to like about The Red Seven. It's a wildly entertaining and deceptively cerebral novel about the blood soaked beginnings of America. I had issues with how morally heavy-handed the book was, though. I have nothing against a good vs evil showdown per se, but The Ghost is somewhat of an avenging angel taking down human sinners one by one, which becomes tedious after a while. He's a "killer of killers", as described on the back cover, an expression that makes me nauseous just to think about. I would've loved to see a transformation: how a normal man can turn into The Ghost when exposed to enough violence and drama. That or a more challenging moral angle. The Red Seven were somewhat disposable bad guys. Their purpose in the novel is more or less to die one by one, which is kind of rigging the game against the reader: you can't wish anything but death to a character who's awful enough to send the righteous in murdering sprees, you know?
I ended up being on the fence about The Red Seven. It does a lot of things right and lots of things I didn't like. And don't get me wrong, this is a personal appreciation. Some of you guys will appreciate this book every step of the way. It depends what you're looking for in a novel. Personally, I thought the morals of The Red Seven were a little too funneled. I read a lot, so I'm aware that I'm probably very demanding in that regards, but it rubbed me the wrong way. Anyway, The Red Seven served its purpose in the big picture: introducing Robert Dean, a young authors with a savage, unique vision. Most first novels are somewhat derivative and The Red Seven definitely isn't. It's a little too ambitious maybe, it definitely oversells its ideas, but it introduces an exciting, limitless new talent in genre literature. The Red Seven may or may not be your thing, but it won't leave you indifferent to Robert Dean extraordinary talent.