three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The God of WarIn her third book (after the novel No Direction Home and the short story collection Babe in Paradise), Marisa Silver takes an unsentimental look at a troubled boy on the cusp of adolescence.

The Story: "On a spring afternoon in the late 1970s, a boy I knew died of a gunshot wound," recalls Ares Ramirez, looking back on his boyhood in a cluttered trailer on the Salton Sea. As his flighty, free-spirited mother Laurel works long hours to make ends meet, Ares is left to care for his younger, developmentally disabled half-brother, Malcolm. Believing he is responsible for Malcolm’s condition, the sensitive, 12-year-old Ares, overwhelmed by guilt and resentment, becomes increasingly disillusioned with his chaotic life, in direct contrast to the orderly harmony of the home of Mrs. Poole, the school librarian and Malcolm’s tutor. His ensuing rebellion steers him inexorably toward that fateful spring afternoon.
Simon & Schuster. 271 pages. $23. ISBN: 1416563164

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In Ares, Silver creates a narrator who makes one lean forward and listen closely. … In place of Dionysian disorder, The God of War offers calm wisdom, and in this way it is a rare and meaningful book, the third by an author who continually foregrounds the importance of complexity in relationship and emotional honesty in fiction." Amity Gaige

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Like any good mystery novel, The God of War begins with a crime announced at the outset, the identities of both killer and victim left unstated, with the implication that by the book’s end we will know the answers to both who and why. More in keeping with a classic such as John Knowles’ A Separate Peace than any ordinary whodunit, the book follows its tease with descriptions of a splintered, oddball world rich in meaning and metaphor." William J. Cobb

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"It is the deeply affecting story of a boy who has learned that ‘all it took for a life to change irreparably was one moment of nonvigilance, one second of letting go.’ … Beautifully written, with every character rounded and real, The God of War is a sad, touching, lovely novel." Frank Wilson

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In the beginning though, when Ares still sees the world through his mother’s eyes, Silver’s writing is dreamy, almost dripping with metaphors that frustratingly hinder the story’s flow. [It is only] later, when all the optimism—and with it Silver’s prose—dries up and hardens like the shores of the polluted, death-ridden Salton Sea that gratitude arises for those languid passages that stretched out the rapidly setting sun of a child’s trust." Sarah Gianelli

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Silver] tries to connect the violence erupting in Ares’ life with violence in society, but strives too hard to make the connection. … [Nonetheless, The God of War] is both profoundly moving and well told, and—to the immense credit of Silver—it is free of sentimentality, which makes the book all the more powerful." Timothy Peters

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The scenes of trailer soap opera between Laurel and [her boyfriend] Richard become tiresome very quickly, and I wonder about Silver’s decision to have Ares narrate the story from a settled, distanced vantage. … On the whole, however, the novel is a moving exploration of fraying family bonds deftly balanced with an elegiac parable, one whose desert backdrop lends resonance to Silver’s ruminations on the mysteries of violence and loss, love and rage, guilt and blame." James Gibbons

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like the name that Marisa Silver gives her main character, the novel is a little too contrived to ring true. … In the end—where Silver tries to tie up the story’s loose ends in a look backward from 2007 by a grown-up Ares—the conflicts are typical, and the resolution holds too few surprises." Dale Singer

Critical Summary

Most critics were drawn in by this sad and lovely tale of a lonely boy weighed down by burdens even an adult would find difficult to bear. Silver’s characters are carefully rendered and sympathetic, her prose is compulsively readable, and her portrayal of Malcolm’s autism is accurate and meaningful. As a narrator looking back 30 years, Ares is clever and perceptive; however, to the dismay of critics, the mature adult’s voice spills over too often into the boy’s thoughts and insights. Silver also tries to correlate her characters’ violent acts with brutality in the world at large, with varying results. Despite these flaws, many critics agreed that Silver has written a "quietly powerful and remarkably moving" novel (San Francisco Chronicle).