Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cutter and Bone: Newton Thornburg

I needed help describing this novel so I borrowed this introduction from Peter Boxnall's 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die:
A lost masterpiece of the Vietnam era, Thornburg's novel traces the domestic fallout of a period that promised social and political revolution but ultimately produced little or no change. At its center is the relationship between Alex Cutter, an alcoholic, disillusioned, crippled Vietnam veteran, and Bone, a self-interested gigolo.
Richard Bone is heading back to Cutter's house, where he lives when he is not free-loading off of some woman, when he  witnesses a body being dumped. It is raining and he isn't sure what he is seeing and he doesn't get a clear look at person who drops the body  off. When an acquaintance mentions that the body has been found in the neighborhood, Bone realizes what he saw, and he is later picked up by the police. So begins the quest of Cutter and Bone to determine who the murderer is, although Bone is a reluctant participant.

I have three things to say about this novel:
1) It was a fantastic read!
2) It was the most bleak book I have ever read.
3) The depiction of Santa Barbara is spot-on and fits in well with the telling of the story.

This is a crime novel and and there is a whodunit of sorts, but Cutter and Bone is much more about the characters and the experiences that have led them to where they are. At points in the book this is a buddy-drama / road trip. The last portion of this book is a mostly unpleasant drive to the Ozarks, in this case southern Missouri.

The characterizations are very well done. Every character, primary or secondary, comes alive. Many of them are damaged and dysfunctional, and not really sympathetic, but they are interesting.

About two-thirds of the book is set in Santa Barbara and surrounding areas. The depiction of the landscape, the landmarks, and the attitudes were almost perfect. Although the novel was written in and set in the 1970's, Santa Barbara today is not that different.

I found the book to be compulsively readable. There were nights I just could not stop reading. Other nights, I skipped reading it at all because I wasn't in the mood for more bleakness. I will definitely read it again.

The Film Adaptation...

The book was filmed as Cutter's Way, directed by Ivan Passer, with Jeff Bridges as Bone and John Heard as Cutter.  I saw the movie several years before I read the book, and then we watched it again recently. It was a very enjoyable experience, with good acting and even more scenes set in recognizable Santa Barbara locales. But I can see why Newton Thornburg would not have cared for the movie, and the film did not do the book justice.

I think the movie handled the characters well, although Cutter and Bone were diluted versions of the characters in the book. Several important or interesting secondary characters were omitted. But, all in all, well worth viewing, with or without reading the book.

See these resources...



Author Remembers Cutter's Way, interview from the Santa Barbara Independent, August 19, 2008.

From a film review at On Second Look:
Passer gets the atmosphere of Santa Barbara and that Central Coast feel just right. There is a juxtaposition of big money and hippie bohemia that makes it the perfect setting for this story. ...he also gets career defining performances out of his leads.
The Book You Have to Read at the Rap Sheet


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Serpent's Tail, 2001 (orig. publ. 1976)
Length:      313 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Santa Barbara, CA; the Ozarks.
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.
Introduction by George Pelecanos 


14 comments:

  1. I remember reading this years ago and being blown away by it. GLad it still works. Also thought the movie was good although I am a sucker for Jeff Bridges.

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    1. Patti, it was also interesting to read about the post-Vietnam experience, having reached adulthood just as the threat of being drafted was impacting so many. I liked the movie too and have always been a fan of both Jeff Bridges and John Heard. I would have liked a movie that was more like the book but it would have been hard to watch.

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  2. Tracy this sounds very interesting. The Santa Barbara aspect of it sounds especially interesting to me as I’m not familiar with that locale at all. I’ve been having trouble signing in to comment again, even with the name and url sign in 😩 I had to go sign into my old blog and come over from your link there to comment. That’s why you haven’t heard much from me. I’m still visiting though!

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    1. Peggy, I am very sorry you are having problems commenting on Blogger. I know it is a pain. This is a very grim book although it does have humor, but it does show a real picture of Santa Barbara, the good and the bad.

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  3. I love it when an author gets a geographic/cultural region right, Tracy. And it's good to hear that this one nails Santa Barbara. The story does sound awfully dark, but a well-told story is a well-told story...

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    1. Margot, we moved to Santa Barbara in late 1979, so only a few years after this was written. This was a good portrayal of Santa Barbara, and the contrasts of the rich and the poor.

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  4. Glad you enjoyed it. I've only read TO DIE IN CALIFORNIA from him and loved it. I'm bumping this one up the pile. The film is on my list too.

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    1. To Die in California sounds like a good book, Col, and I remember that you enjoyed it. I will be looking for a copy. I got a copy of Knockover and I could have sworn I read about it at your blog, but maybe not. And definitely watch the film; whether before or after reading the book, I am not sure which is best or if it makes a difference.

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    2. I did blog about getting a copy of Knockover when I picked it up. I think a blog post from Andrew Nette tipped me off to it. It kind of inspired me to check out a few more of his books. Most of his work is available for a couple of pounds on Kindle over here - and they all have an appeal.

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    3. That's right, Col, I remember the mention of Andrew Nette recommending it.

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  5. Ordinarily I avoid bleak, as I am often too easily influenced by the atmosphere of what I'm reading. But if I like the voice I usually can ride that through the wasteland milieu. This book sounds like its voice could do that for me, Tracy. I'm inclined to give it a looksee.

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    1. Matt, I have a problem with bleak books because I am always looking for a happy ending; I cannot cure myself of that. Or at least some redemption of some sort. But this was worth reading anyway, for me.

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  6. I thought I'd read this, as well as having seen the film, but I don't think I have. I have To Die in California on my Kindle, because of Col's recommendation and he has asked me if I've read it yet, but I feel I'll have to be strong to read it, it sounds as bleak as this one. But I do want to read it...

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    1. Moira, I am amazed that I had forgotten so much of the film since the first viewing. It opens with a fantastic scene of the Fiesta parade. I was very glad I finally got to reading the book. It was a good example of a book with few if any likable characters that I still enjoyed reading.

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