Friday, 26 July 2013
The Serpent's Bite by Warren Adler - Mini Review
5 out of 5 stars
The Sting of the Natural World
What could be nicer than a family get together in the wilderness? Let’s get back to nature and relax. The idea of the benefits of a family get-together is a popular one, but isn’t the reality of the situation somewhat different? Families after all are the subject of a very number of interviews with psychologists. In this novel George Temple has this idea of getting together with his adult son and daughter, Courtney and Scott, by going on a trek through the wilderness of Yellowstone Park. Things have not been right with his family and George seems to want to heal the matters. Unfortunately matters are not quite as simple as this.
Warren Adler is a leading writer of thrill/chill fiction and this is his thirty-sixth novel. His most famous work is The War of the Roses, which was made into a movie starring Danny De Vito, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Unlike some horror books The Serpent's Bite is not a work of the fantastic, but it does have a slightly larger than life quality. But then how normal is ‘normal’ life?
True to the genre the plot of Bite has many twists and turns. Some changes of direction are well prepared for, others are hinted at and some are very unexpected. The style is calm, then explosive, then calm again in a cycle that runs throughout the book. There are two sex scenes which may shock very conservative readers. Adler manages admirably to maintain our attention by including many flash backs (prior to the trip), which add variety. He also uses the interesting technique of writing each chapter from a different character’s point of view. This sometimes adds considerable irony to the book as we see that some character’s perspective is not quite right. On the whole Adler presents a rather hard-boiled view of human nature and the style captures this well.
The characters in this novel are hardly likable, but Adler is not trying to be ‘nice’. We are indeed delighted by these people’s nastiness and foolishness. Even the good George Temple comes in for some criticism. Being powerfully motivated, these characters are relentless, carving a clear direction for themselves, but some evolve over time.
The book has a clear theme of addiction. First we meet alcohol addiction, but there are other compulsions waiting to be discovered later in the plot. Temptation and ‘sin’ also run as topics, though I do not mean to imply that this is a religious book. The Temple’s are Jews, but not practicing synagogue visitors.
From the psychological perspective Adler has written a fairly accurate novel. The information about addiction rings true to life. Adler delves into peoples’ blind spots: the lies they consciously and even unconsciously maintain. Close to this is the truth of secrets kept from others.
Women may at first be a bit offended by this tale. Courtney is certainly a powerful, determined woman, however she falls into the category of the classic ‘prime hussy’, a rather stereotyped role. Mrs Temple, only alluded to in the text, also seems the stereotyped ‘loving mother’. Adler is, however, talking about the very notion of stereotyping which very really occurs in our lives as we are subject to social values from family, books, TV and films. The very idea of feminism is based on this notion. Adler certainly encourages us to question this stereotyping. To add balance the male characters are equally driven pigs.
In the larger perspective of the society Adler playfully upholds vales and questions them at the same time. His characters are bad people but their rebel views sometimes make sense and carry weight. The philosopher Michel Foucault pointed out that a great deal of society is a power system which manipulates us and in this novel much of what manipulates us is delved into and questioned. I do not mean that this is a heavy philosophy text of the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre. The average reader will most certainly enjoy this book.
Nature features prominently in the book and Adler plays with it as he plays with the notion of society. George Temple’s idea is to get his children away from things in order to work their life together out, but can we ever get away from life and is life really what we think. The ambivalence of nature provides an interesting, symbolic backdrop to the book as a whole.
Adler has written an exciting, very readable book which also has deeper meaning if you look twice. Be prepared to be shocked. I have mentioned feminism, philosophy and symbolism but don’t reject this book because you think it is too intellectual for you. At its heart this is overwhelmingly horror, pure and simple.