three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
user_rating: 
0

missing imageMadison Smartt Bell, author of 13 novels and a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award, unearths the dark truths of the links between violence and sexuality in his latest novel.

The Story: Mae is a middle-aged blackjack dealer working in a desert town, and her life is intensely altered by 9/11. Obsessed, she splices together hours of news footage, which she watches on loop. On the screen, she recognizes a former lover kneeling on a New York City sidewalk, which leads to a reopening of Mae's past. The novel turns to memories of her childhood with her abusive brother, her prostitution, and ultimately to Mae's participation in a 1960s commune--a cult centered on drugs, sex, and violence. Through Mae's dark life story, Bell explores the connections between eroticism and abuse.
Vintage. 224 pages. $15. ISBN: 9780307741882

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"The skill and finesse Bell has perfected while writing ... boldly questing books, along with the infernal forces he has valiantly confronted, bloom with the deadly magnetism of a Venus flytrap in this cunning, narcotic and searing tale...As Bell maps Mae's trajectory of mayhem and death in this brilliantly ferocious novel of abuse and survival, this sinister fable of blood lust and madness, he grapples with timeless equations of predator and prey, the sublime and the demonic, the dark ecstasy of destruction and the hell wrought by catastrophic delusion." Donna Seaman

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's no easy task to make readers care about a character as disturbed as Mae--Bell is careful to never cast her as a victim, which in itself is a deft narrative stroke (and one that is likely to make some readers turn away). But those who stay will find a novel that challenges the very anatomy of evil, a novel that breaks down a deeply flawed character until all that's left is a vast and terribly familiar darkness." Tod Goldberg

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
‘With a bleak nod to Cormac McCarthy, The Color of Night often reads like a hybrid of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and ‘Helter Skelter.'" Ethan Gilsdorf

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Over a spare 208 pages, [Mae] is revealed to be neither likeable nor particularly sympathetic, even once you've fully grasped her formative childhood trauma. But she is human ... and her story is believable." Ronnie Crocker

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bell's story is taut, searching, daring and, yes, appalling. But if not for the novelist, all we'd have today are the blitherings of think-tank rent-a-quotes with nice hair. This novelist ... says violence does have a cause, and ignoring it only makes things worse." Anne Saker

The Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The novel may make you cheer or vomit, but I guarantee you won't read anything else like it this year. ... It takes guts for an author to swim against the current this way, but unfortunately, the stern purity of Bell's vision is undercut by several serious flaws." Michael Lindgren

Critical Summary

The author of over 20 books from varying genres, Bell's productive career spans over three decades. Almost all critics of this book agree that Bell's writing experience enables him to masterfully engage the reader in a tour of the thrillingly dark and sexual violence that pervades Mae's character and her experiences with others. However, some critics indicate that the intense violence of the book may be disturbing to some. Bell agrees. In the introduction to the novel, he acknowledges the difficulty of the subject matter: "Surely it is the most vicious and appalling story ever to pass through my hand to the page, so inevitably some people will hate it." Although some critics praise Bell's technique of comparing his novel's characters and situations with classical Greek gods and fate, other critics find these references childishly executed. Some take issue with Bell's organization of the plot. However, the overwhelming majority of reviewers find Bell's novel a powerful look inside a dark, tortured soul.