GENRE: Dystopian, literary fiction, thriller
A father and son stumble into the secret world of the Santos Muertos, a crime cartel bent on global domination. The son must find his father and keep the secret of the ancient Mayan code underlying the creation of matter in the universe from falling into the wrong hands.
A story of sacrifice and love.
Mary—wife and mother, the glue that holds a family together—lies dying in a hospital bed, her last message: I pity you. The words are prophetic, disturbingly so.
Al—father, husband—registers the oddments of normality at her passing. Life going on, the good, the bad. The hole that is his cell. He cannot die, his son deserves more than that capitulation. The absurdity of Los Santos Muertos, a cult with tendrils everywhere, embracing a mantra of pain and cleansing, shores Al’s resolve. Resolve measured in steps, in memories, in despair because he cannot give them what they want, even if he knew what it was. The end game for Al is both death and life, he wins either way.
Ricky—son, mourner, coming-of-age with the reticence and callowness of youth— carries the weight of a father’s ambition, a mother’s love, and a need to distance himself from both tethers.
Al and Ricky embark to Guatemala, to vacation in the surf, to rejoice in a memory that’s not a memory, acting out in present tense because past tense is too painful and disrespectful.
Toggling between past and present—Al’s memories, Ricky’s denial, the ever-present sensibility of Mary—we delve in and out of a family whose appearance is the kind of normal all families have: tinged with corruption, false premises, hopes and dreams, and the jarring backlash when reality rears its ugly head.
Al seeks to reconnect with his son. Ricky acquiesces because there are too few pieces of him up for barter. But the distance, the dysfunction, is a palpable force, made manifest when things go wrong … the kind of events outside one’s control. Random, dangerous, inexplicable.
Guatemala is foreign soil, in more ways than one. The veneer for the tourist trade seems skin deep, the underbelly is paranormal: old beliefs, old gods, old customs … and portents. Violence lurks just beneath the surface. Ricky is cast adrift to find his way, to discover answers, to embark on a quest to find his father, kidnapped by the cult that believes the artifact Ricky possesses holds the answer that will unlock their version of Armageddon.
Savior is a quest, a story of survival, a thrill ride, an exploration of youth finding the kind of truths parents dread … the kind that transform boy to man when the template exists outside the realm of normal and everyday.
The use of language is intelligent, and unexpected in today’s thriller/dystopian genres, with turns of phrase that startle with their elegance without ripping the reader away from the plot or descriptions.
The narrative structure is imaginative and unconventional. Dialog flows without tags, without the usual punctuation, proving a reader does not need GPS to follow a discussion. The mind need not flick that switch of ‘this one says’ and ‘that one responds’, using first POV or close third to guide the reader from one point to another. One learned to “listen” to what was said, without the interference of filters informing the reader of the character’s state-of-mind or emotion.
I am loathe to say too much about the plot beyond it’s Ricky’s quest to find his father … and Al’s determination to find that inner strength to survive, despite the fact the reasons for doing so border on revenge as he grows to understand his captor and tormentor.
What does happen to both man and teen is tinged with elements of the occult, the supernatural, and even matters of faith and belief. As the story progresses, the feeling of displacement increases, with dysfunction replacing normal, stepping into its skin until the two become one.
Savior borders on literary. It is exemplary in its stellar use of language, its complex plot and characterizations, its ability to derive truths and fallacies and the thin veil separating them.
I do have a nit to pick. It involves the steps in Ricky’s quest, the way-stations and hoops he must jump through in order to proceed, the delays and the sense of time passing unproductively. Many of his life lessons and experiences seem tangential to the quest. Yes, they add to the overall coming-of-age subtext; yet as a narrative device for a dystopian thriller, it acts to sideline the plot and to focus the reader’s energy on that story-within-a-story. In itself, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if it carries an emotional payoff. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case.
There were acts of violence, some accidental, others not, that carried too much cinematic distance, divorcing the reader from the action, and the actors from the kinds of consequences that inform one’s character.
In spite of those nits, this is a novel I will reread, savor for its nuances, and ponder on the denouement.
This is a FIVE STAR read and I will be in search of more by this author.