RARA-AVIS: Mixed WashPost review for GOD IS A BULLET

Kieran Reilly (southpaw@altavista.net)
Sun, 4 Apr 1999 20:04:27 -0400 Greetings from a longtime lurker.

I came across GOD IS A BULLET at a local B&N earlier this week and
wasn't too impressed with some of the overblown rhetoric I came across
when flipping through pages at random, but, having not read the book I
decided to refrain from comment when the subject came up on this list.

I noticed this review of the book in today's Washington Post, so I
thought I'd pass it along. Cheers.

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Bloody Rites in the Desert
Reviewed by Bliss Broyard
Sunday, April 4, 1999; Page X06
The Washington Post

By Boston Teran
Knopf. 302 pp. $24

I happened to read God Is a Bullet while visiting a part of California
not far from the deserts where much of the novel takes place. My friend
and I were sitting in a hot spring in the middle of a cattle ranch under
a pale moon and miles from any civilization. If it had been a scene from
Boston Teran's debut novel, we would soon have found ourselves
surrounded by a gang of blood-hungry junkies, to be tortured, raped,
stuffed inside an animal carcass and/or eviscerated as dictated by the
whims of Cyrus, ringleader for a devil-worshiping cult, the Left-Handed

In God Is a Bullet Cyrus kidnaps 13-year-old Gabi, and much of the
action involves a rescue chase across Southern California and into
Mexico by her father, Bob Hightower, a God-fearing police sheriff, and
Case Hardin, an ex-junkie and ex-Left-Handed Path member who was
inducted into the cult when she was 12. But despite the frequent
references to Helter Skelter, Son of Sam, the Polly Klaas case, and Mein
Kampf to remind us that unfathomable evil does exist in the world, the
exploration of the darker side of human nature within these pages feels
only skin (or rather celluloid) deep.

At many turns, one can imagine Teran asking himself, What would Quentin
Tarantino do here? From the dialogue ("I'm the belly of the beast now,
Captain. So consider yourself swallowed." Or "Blood and bones, baby
doll. It's all crossing over time") to the cast of characters (a speed
freak named Granny Boy communicates primarily in rock-and-roll lyrics)
to the images ("he is naked now, swigging tequila and firing his pistol
into the heart of the sky, his prosthetic arm and leg twitching madly
with each shot"), much of the book feels camera-ready. These same
ingredients -- which will undoubtedly make the book a hot movie property
-- also make it fun to read if one takes it as a slightly over-the-top,
brilliantly paced, suspense-packed, often clever, richly imagined
thriller. But as the title suggests, the author has loftier ambitions.

Let's see. Some of the philosophical ground covered here includes the
contagion of corruption in a community; the need to take personal
responsibility for one's fate; the thin line between the devout and the
deviant; what, if any, moral imperative a person should live by; the
exclusionary, patriarchal nature of the Christian faith; and whether
there is meaning in the world. For good measure, a few tenets from
12-step addiction recovery programs and a running commentary on the
media's own brand of bloodthirstiness are thrown in. Clearly, Boston
Teran gets around. In the end, he suggests that violence is the ultimate
authority and the only judge. He or she who lives wins, a prize that
comes with a high price -- becoming a murderer, turning away from your
faith, and taking the poison of evil inside you.

The problem for me lies not with these questions but with the characters
doing the questioning and the language used to render their emotions.
Take Bob Hightower, for example. His teenage daughter has been abducted
by the same people who butchered his ex-wife and her husband in "the
worst massacre since Manson" and who drowned the pet dog in the toilet
bowl to boot; he knows about Cyrus's treatment of Case -- the beatings,
the rapes, the forced addiction; and upon stumbling on the site of a
recent "death rite" (in which children are forced to rape each other and
often killed), all he can manage is to "close his eyes in despair."
Well, not quite. A half a page later there is "desolation in his voice"
and "devastation across the shapeless mortality of his features."
Neither his suffering nor his faith was ever real to me; therefore, I
couldn't become interested in his moral conflicts.

Case is an equally enigmatic figure. Her motive for seeking out Bob and
accompanying him on his rescue mission is never fully convincing. At one
point, Teran himself seems to give up and Case says, "I don't judge why
I'm here. I'm just here." Again, the novel's language fails her. Here's
Case looking at a photograph of what remains of the face of Gabi's
stepfather: "a heartless host of the horribles comes warring up through
her belly."

It's hard not to admire God Is a Bullet for all its gory glory and
attempts to tackle such issues as the nature of good and evil. It's even
harder to put the book down. But as with many movies of this sort, in
the end its impact fades to black.

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