The Terror of Living: A Novel Hardcover – Feb 7 2011
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"The Terror of Living opens with gentle beauty, calm before a bloody storm, before building intensity with swift, jarring, and confident storytelling power. A fine debut from a writer of obvious and substantial talents. Readers--including this one--will certainly be following Urban Waite for years to come."―Michael Koryta, author of So Cold the River
"In the tradition of No Country for Old Men, Urban Waite has written a nail-biter that takes off from the get-go and never stops, a book chock full of memorable characters and kick-ass writing. Clear your calendar before reading this one, folks, because once you start there's no stopping until the end, which arrived much too quickly for this reader. A smashing debut."―Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
"A supercharged suspenseful thriller peopled by colorful characters and driven by terrifying events that begin at mach speed and never slow for a moment. Supremely cinematic."―Joseph Wambaugh, author of the Hollywood Station novels
"Urban Waite is a writer who knows what he's doing and this killer novel drives that home every hard-charging step of the way. In Waite's hands, scenes come at you like bursts of machine gun fire, and it's testament to his skill - setting that pops off the page, dialogue that crackles, characters you can't help but care about - that you won't want them to stop hitting."―Josh Weil, author of The New Valley
"The Terror of Living is a smart, swiftly-paced and bloody Western for our moment. Urban Waite is a writer who won't let a reader wander away--he keeps you reading, and reading, and rewards all your attention with a powerhouse story and prose to match."―Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone and The Bayou Trilogy
"A hell of a good novel, relentlessly paced and beautifully narrated. There's just no let-up. An auspicious debut."―Stephen King
"[A] superbly written chase novel set in Washington State.... A cat-and-mouse pursuit, gut-clenching violence (fair warning, the book cannot make the claim, "no horses were harmed in the making of this story"), loyalties sundered -- all come with the genre. What is rarer is the finely honed literary sensibility of the writer, who conveys the sensory reality of his settings with evocative exactitude.... Waite's considerable talent in general serves him well."―P.G. Koch, The Houston Chronicle
"This formidable fiction debut by Urban Waite unfolds in short and often all too memorably violent sequences, yet the author also allows his characters room to wrestle with private demons as the intense, often gruesome tale races toward its satisfying resolution."―Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Urban Waite, 30 years old, grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He went on to study writing at Western Washington University and Emerson College and now lives in Seattle with his wife. The Terror of Living is his first novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I purchased the novel based upon 5 things: a brief mention of the writer in The Seattle Mystery Bookshop newsletter, the premise of the book as presented on the inner flap of the dust jacket, the endorsement by Daniel Woodrell on the jacket's back cover, an interest in Northwest authors...and, OK, the fact that the book was for sale at a good price at Costco. I won't provide a synopsis of the book because Amazon has already done that with the thumbnail reviews from trade papers.
Though I enjoyed 'The Terror Of Living,' I can't say that I fell all the way into the story. Part of it, I think, is the fact that the book is set in the area in which I've spent the past 40 years of my life. That being the case, I was always trying to figure out where the action was taking place. A critical scene in the book has to do with taking boats from the Seattle area to a rendezvous near Canada...and back. Well, almost back. Anyway, I was unable to see that trip in my mind. I couldn't bring the the length of the trip together with the relatively brief amount of time that seemed to be involved. The same with an automobile escape to Eastern Washington. Though the destination was described, I couldn't really locate it. "OK, if they left the house in Western Washington and traveled for three hours, they could make it into Eastern Washington but not into the kind of topography that's described, unless they went over Highway 2 and not Interstate 90"...that kind of thing. There were a number of moments like that which pulled me out of the story. Other Northwest readers might not experience the same thing and, of course, this criticism is completely meaningless to anyone not familiar with the Puget Sound area. But it did have an affect on my ability to get lost in the book.
Over all, though, the novel presents characters that are well fleshed out, a simple but smoothly executed plot and writing that doesn't draw attention to itself too often (which I mean as a compliment). There are some coincidences in the plot that are a little unbelievable (but that's 'coincidence' for you) and sometimes it seems that the characters use locutions that don't seem to match their backgrounds and circumstances, but the story moves at a pace that makes these things minor quibbles. Urban Waite could very well have some terrific novels in him. He's started out with one that's pretty darn good.
There's the law (Drake), the lawless (Grady), and then there is that equivocal and tarnished outlaw, Hunt--the name brimming with metaphor--whose reckoning is tethered to Drake's by plaited doubts and dark obstacles reaching back to a coiled and inextricable past. In short, they are each other's nemesis. The wives in this story are resolute and strong, providing a mirror for the reader to reflect on their moody tormented husbands. The northwest territory of Washington State becomes its own penetrating and terrifying, living character.
In the mountain wilderness passes between Washington and Canada, drug smuggling is a lot more challenging than it used to be, now that boundary crossing between Canada and the U.S. requires a passport and the roads are policed. Bricks of cocaine dropped from planes in the blue-black night below the high treetops and picked up by horseback, as well as human "mules" carrying condoms full of heroin implanted by ingestion, are the methods used to foil the law.
In the near-opening pages, newly married Deputy Drake, on his day off, sights Hunt's abandoned horse trailer on the logging roads of Silver Lake and suspects an imminent transaction. He camps out and waits, haunted by memories, by the ghost of family history. Drake's father, a once formidable sheriff, is serving time in prison. He supplemented his earnings as a drug courier, as Hunt is doing now. Hunt's wife, Nora, is not too keen on her husband's extracurricular activities, but their love is a firm and unalloyed bedrock that never diminishes. Hunt's curled past as a convict is something for the reader to discover, a piece of information that is teased out and explored over the course of the novel, magnifying the psychological heft of this better-than-genre story. Hunt's demons correlate Drake's, and propel them and the story.
The plot mobilizes early on when Drake comes face to face with Hunt and Hunt's young rookie in the midst of collecting the goods. Phil is a skilled horseman who escapes, but the "kid" is apprehended and suffers a gruesome fate in jail. The chase proceeds with a measured pace, hypnotic and bracing. The dead bodies pile up, thanks to the main supplier's lackey, Grady, a former chef and sociopathic killer on the trail of Hunt and Drake alike.
Rounding out the cast are DEA agent and straight shooter, Driscoll, working with Drake; "the lawyer" (nameless) and drug deal maker; Hunt's long time friend, Eddie; Bobby Drake's perceptive wife, Sheri; and an array of cold-blooded, one-dimensional thugs. Then there's the female mule, Thu, a Vietnamese women who lives in Seattle. The thugs and mule are necessary to the plot, but the theme is amply filled by the invisible relationship between Drake and Hunt.
I was additionally impressed by the nuanced juxtaposition of Sheri and Nora, and how they counterpoint Drake and Hunt. Phil is used to Nora's capacity to know his essential nature. Drake, a newlywed, still grapples with Sheri's tacit understanding of his confused motives. The counterpoint between the two marriages was lightly but substantively rendered, endowing the book with weighty subtext that accumulates as the story progresses. This was a testosterone-infused novel, and yet, in the final assessment, it is the women who impel their men.
Waite may not have broken the mold in this somber thriller, but he deftly contributed his own achievement. The spiritual struggle between good and bad is a conventional theme that the author probed with a fresh eye. There were a few scene contrivances to advance the plot, but they did not distract from this taut, intense story.
The prose is stark and shadowy, lambent and sensuous, weaving in the geography of the northwest so ably that I heard the wind like a susurrus whisper--and sometimes a howl--through the trees, and I lurched through the snaking roads. There are tendrils of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, but less antediluvian, and Waite, at this juncture, is not as seasoned. But I did relish at some of the turns of event that will inevitably be compared to McCarthy's work, and I suspect that Waite deliberately paid a nodding homage--as evidenced by the character (although minor) identified as "the kid" (viz. Blood Meridian, but with a lower-case "k"). Some readers may decry it as essentially formulaic, but that would be a limited view. What makes this novel stand out is the ethereal prose and the ever-strengthening bond between Hunt and Drake.
The events in this book are graphic, explicit and occasionally disturbing, but with a controlled restraint. There's also a choice twist on the Mexican standoff. For squeamish readers, this is a fair warning that the novel isn't for the faint of heart or for readers who abhor violence in literature. This was executed like a noir-western-opera-suspense-drama-slash-thriller fusion, with a harmonic equipoise of physical action and interior torment. The story is a hybrid brew of nihilism and romanticism, summoning a cauldron of terror and stirring it with an ache and longing for tranquility.
The outdoor horsey setting and the casual killing reminds me of McCarthy. The writing is nowhere near Cormac's level but it's serviceable. The amount of blood and gore isn't egregious because it jibes with the reality of the criminal world but it's hard to stomach page on page of gore. Just as in McCarthy's work the gems in this book are the relationships. Both Drake and Hunt have wives they're devoted to and who are devoted to them.
Nearby in Silver Lake, Deputy Sheriff Bobby Drake struggles with the reputation of his father who was a highly regarded lawman until he was arrested for smuggling drugs into Canada. He has not seen his disgraced dad in a decade.
Drake happens to notice a horse trailer parked in a strange area. He goes to investigate and interrupts an illegal shipment. The operation that seemed benign when it worked smoothly now reveals to Hunt just how deadly his sideline has become. Phil flees from the law while his employers angrily send the Chef to collect their stolen goods and kill the transporter and lawman.
The aptly titled The Terror of Living is a great character study that looks deep into the souls of two men. Each makes it clear that life is not a simple choice between two forks in the road, but instead consists of multiple opportunity cost options in which going down an illegal path may be the best avenue, but how far one goes is the key. Phil like Bobby's dad knows he is breaking the law when he transports illegal drugs into Canada, but does so to care for his family while also understanding he could go back to jail if caught. When does he and to a degree Bobby draw a line each refuses to cross become the focus of this excellent personalized thriller.
It's a shame, because Wait is a good wordsmith and he keeps the pages turning, but really, why didn't he throw in a secret Masonic code and a tattooed computer hacker while he was at it?