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Cutter and Bone - Newton Thornburg i am stingy with my stars, i admit it. but i read this book twice in a row on first reading, and that means one of two things: i'm not sure how i feel, and i need another go, or i love the book so unabashedly that there is nothing for it but to read it again right away. in this case, cutter and bone kicked my ass, and i'm still sort of reeling.

i read this book a year ago, in june 2010. it's not in my possession anymore, and i gave back my borrowed copy reluctantly. i need to buy it and read it again, and yet i'm glad i've taken some time between readings. (update jan 2013: the original owner gave me their copy. and i am reading it again now. :) i still think of it, often, how much i felt all the ugly joy, and loss and frustration that threads this book, and yet there is still joy: these characters are entirely engaged in their own disintegration, they scramble and they struggle to get it all figured out; they are tearing at the throat of life. thornburg's painted a vivid visceral world in words and the story washes in around me. i haven't said much about plot here but it's enough to say somebody witnesses a murder, and there is blackmail, and car chases, and sexy scenes in squalid circumstances, and a hell of a lot of fury.

two friends are at the centre of this book: cutter, the tortured, maimed vietnam vet, a genius, a puck, is balanced by richard bone, a former ad man gigolo, physically revolted by a conventional life, broken in his own way. the two embrace each other, scrape up against each other, and their symbiosis beats like a pulse through the suspense of the caper, the opportunity that cutter hangs all their hopes upon. cutter's girlfriend is named mo and the experience of reading her was nerve-wracking. it's rare i find characters in books with my name and she was so much my opposite in thornburg's description, and yet sharing a familiarly chaotic frame of mind that i wondered if he wasn't spying on me. mo is the third main figure of the novel. she influences both the men and the pattern of the novel but she is still secondary to the two men; she is their ophelia.

this is a perfectly paced, completely engaging and wonderfully written novel. the characters are etched they are so well drawn, and their voices will ring in your inner ear. it's raw. it's not exactly life-affirming, but it is as real as fiction gets, i think.