New Review: George Dawes Green’s RAVENS

In today’s Los Angeles Times, I review George Dawes Green’s new novel RAVENS, a book I and many others have been waiting for a very long time. It’s very much worth the wait, and be prepared to have your mind messed with on a number of levels while reading. Here’s how the piece opens:

George Dawes Green has made an irregular habit of analyzing how extreme circumstances affect the most ordinary of people. His deserved Edgar-winning debut “The Caveman’s Valentine” (1994) traveled down mystery fiction’s trope-filled streets with a paranoid schizophrenic as tour guide. “The Juror” (1995) was a slick account of how a young woman’s jury turn took a descent into stalker territory, but Green’s knack for wringing maximum disturbance out of a nerve-jangling storyline elevated the bestselling novel (and subsequent movie) above similar fare. Even his 14-year hiatus between books, often spent working on storytelling extravaganzas under The Moth rubric, seems appropriate — especially as the end result is a high-wire act of risk and dreams in constant threat of being snatched away.

He spoke with the Wall Street Journal late last week about the long gap between RAVENS and his first two books: “I was mostly interested in living,” Green said, adding that his time away from novel writing was largely spent in Hollywood writing screenplays that didn’t get produced, as well as founding and shepherding the travelling storytelling showcase The Moth. “I played a lot of poker,

traveled, and spent a lot of time with people I care about. I don’t

know why the years went by so quickly. It didn’t seem that long to me.”

Not surprisingly, a sporadic publication history like this can be rather challenging, as Jeff Trachtenberg reports in the piece:

In a landscape dominated by such writers as James Patterson, who will
publish nine new books this year, Mr. Green presents a challenge.
“Unless you’re a novelist of storied literary stature, the fiction
marketplace favors prolific writers and can be harsh towards an author
who publishes infrequently,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House

Mr. Green’s publisher, Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of
Lagardere’s Hachette Book Group, is printing only 45,000 copies of
“Ravens.” In part, that’s because many bookstores may no longer know
Mr. Green. “He was last published in the dinosaur age,” says his
literary agent, Molly Friedrich.

Put another way, as a mystery bookseller told me recently, eager fans waiting for Green’s new novel have died before the book had a chance to come out. But Green shrugs off any attempts to shoehorn him on the book-a-year track, much as Grand Central has tried to do so with him. “I always felt as though John Updike limited himself by writing so

much. He’d have been better off writing a draft and

then trying to go deep into his characters. His work seemed to miss

some resonance that he might have been able to find if he’d taken