Monday, May 18, 2009


Scott Phillips is a writer that you have to trust. When you crack one of his books, he only gives you hints as to what the story is going to be about. You can't read thirty pages and then be able to guess what the structure of the novel is going to be. Phillips is too sneaky for that, too confident that he can keep you reading without laying all his cards out on the table a few minutes into the game.

The thing is, dear reader, that the guy's confidence is well fucking warranted. I defy you to read the first few pages of Cottonwood and then toss it to the side, never to be read again. It ain't gonna fucking happen. The voice is too sharp, too hilarious, and too fresh to resist. You're gonna want to know what Bill Odgen, your humble narrator, is all about. You're gonna want to know just where this fucking freight train of a book is exactly fucking headed.

I'm not gonna shit on the Cottonwood virgins by spoiling the surprises that happen along the way. You'll notice that all my Scott Phillips reviews have thus far been pretty fucking spare on the plot details and heavy on the fucking priase. Well, that shit ain't changing any time soon, dear reader. Cottonwood is even better than The Walkaway which was even better than The Ice Harvest - which kicked plenty of fucking ass to begin with. Dude had a hell of a run in the first half of the 00's and we can only hope his next effort outdoes even what's come before. Not to set the bar ridiculously high or anything...

I will tell you that Bill Ogden is a bartender living in the newly formed town of Cottonwood, Kansas in the 1870's. The modest hamlet blows up big and it blows up fucking fast upon the arrival of a rich yankee name of Marc Leval, a guy with a plan to turn Cottonwood into a major cattle town with the arrival of the rail road just around the corner. Marc likes Ogden, sees ambition and smarts in the young man and offers to let him in on the ground floor, a chance to make it rich with him in the coming months and years. Now if only Marc's wife wasn't so damned sexy...and always giving Bill these little sideways glances...

So as with the previous novels set in Phillips' little world (you'll recognize that Bill shares the same surname with a character from The Walkaway), that little description doesn't hardly give you a clue as to the arc of the story and that's a good thing. The little secrets, the small revelations and connections - that's the shit that makes Cottonwood rock your shit. Well, that and the great violence and Ogden's pitch-perfect voice as a narrator. And of course, some fucking hilarious dialogue:

"Hey, killer," Lowry called. "I brought you some company."

After a moment's silence a dry croak came from the cell. "You go to hell."

"You'll see it before me," Lowry said with a chuckle as he unlocked the cell opposite.

"If that's so," came the voice from inside, "I'll give your ma a good kiss right on the cunt when I get there, for old time's sake."

If that shit doesn't make you read Cottonwood, I don't know what the fuck will. There's just no hope for you, I guess (either that or you can't spot a great 19th Century 'yo mama' joke when you see it).

So now I'm all caught up with Scott Phillips. It feels both great and horribly depressing. Hopefully his latest work will come out toot-fucking-sweet. And you better fucking believe this: It will sure as shit NOT be "Catching Up" post because my ass will there the fucking day it comes out.

No comments: