Ravens by George Dawes Green
Mitch and Patsy Boatwright have won the lottery, making them overnight millionaires. They are a dysfunctional family living in rural Georgia. Patsy is an alcoholic and, prior to winning the big prize, was borderline abusive – especially on the nights of the lottery drawings. Tara, their oldest daughter, just wanted out. She did the best she could to avoid her mother on the night’s they drew the lottery. Mitch owns a local office supply store and is as deeply religious as he is ineffectual. The glue that really holds the family together is Nell, Patsy’s mother. Winning the lottery seems like it may be the answer to the family’s prayers. They will no longer need monetarily and and there is hope, perhaps, that the disappearance of that stressor will change everything. Unfortunately, Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko, two drifters from Ohio, overhear about the family’s good fortune while stopping briefly at a gas station and hatch a plot of terror to steal half of the winnings from themselves.
This novel is full of interesting psychological insights. Patsy fairly easily falls under Shaw’s spell and even when the lives of her husband, mother, or daughter are at risk, she’s still dreaming of that Malibu mansion. Shaw uses that and her alcohol addiction to keep her in her place. Tara’s situation is even more complex. She has an understanding of Stockholm Syndrome and she hates what Shaw is doing to her father, but even she feels a pull toward him, an attraction that she tries to deny. It was also interesting how Shaw began to buy his own press after people from all over the country flock to him, believing that his participation in buying the winning lottery ticket is the ultimate sign of God’s redemption. Those scenes reminded me a great deal of Jodi Picoult’s Keepig Faith. The best part of the novel for me, however, was the internal work that Romeo goes through as he continually drives around the town and contemplates having to kill innocent people for his best friend. He has to come to terms with being made the muscle in a plan he didn’t originally want any part of all out of loyalty to his best friend.
I did not dislike Ravens. I thought there were some interesting, although not necessarily likable, characters and the end of the novel kept me reading. I cannot say that I liked this novel, though. The basic premise is quite promising. I’m sure that this would be the worst nightmare of anyone who plays the lottery with dreams of winning it all. This novel wasn’t all it could have been for me because I could not suspend my disbelief enough to buy Shaw being able to take and hold the family captive as easily as he did. Shaw and Romeo might have had a sordid past, but they were not just looking for something illegal to do. They simply stopped at a gas station and overheard news of a local lottery winner. Within 24 hours, they were executing their hastily made plans. While I believe one could quite easily discover enough information about a family from a teenager’s MySpace pages, I cannot believe that the lottery commission or local law enforcement as a whole wouldn’t be slightest bit suspicious of Shaw’s story.
Ravens was the first novel published by George Dawes Green in several years. I have not read any of his earlier work, but the hype certainly had me anticipating something more sinister and cohesive. Perhaps family’s in crisis are easily targeted and picked off by violent con artists, but that just didn’t work for me. Even so, I can’t believe that two people not already looking to terrorize a family can stumble upon the perfect situation, decide upon a plan in less than 24 hours, make it work, and get away with it for as long as Shaw and Romeo did without making huge mistakes. Ravens never had an edge for me. It is interesting as a character or psychological study, but if you are looking for a psychological thriller, I would suggest reading The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris or just about anything by Steven King first. It isn’t that Ravens is a horrible novel. It’s not. It’s just hard to be on the edge of your seat when you don’t believe the bad guy could ever be successful.
Special thanks to Miriam at Hachette Book Group for sending me a copy of Ravens for review.
To buy this novel, click here.