Sing Her Down: A Novel

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Release Date: 
May 23, 2023
Reviewed by: 

The publisher bills this book as a gritty, razor-sharp, modern Western, but there is nothing of the West in it. Nothing in the story relies on the unique Western landscapes, climates, or subcultures of Arizona or Los Angeles where it is nominally set, and it just as easily could be set in Chicago, New York, Boston, Miami or, for that matter, Glasgow, Palermo, Lagos, Melbourne, or just about any place else. The standard by which Western novels are measured says that if the story could be set anywhere besides the American West it is not a Western—the setting must be an intrinsic part of and integral to the tale. This book does not adhere to that standard. Or, come to that, any other characteristic that describes a Western.

It is the story of two women hell-bent on self-destruction, one of whom, “Dios,” sees it as her mission to hasten the other’s downward spiral. Neither reveals any redeeming qualities. “Florida” experiences occasional flashes of desire to reverse course but those moments are fleeting and disrupted by further pursuits of decadence, or by Dios shoving her off an emotional cliff into more violence and villainy as if she were doing her a favor. It all seems so senseless.

While the presence of evil often exposes the depths of fictional characters, and reactions and response to elements of the dark side reveal the character of a character, here bad behavior leads only to more bad behavior and little or nothing of note changes. From threats, intimidation, prison violence, and abuse to beatings and murder, nothing alters the bad behavior of the principal players. A sense of foreboding permeates the story, and even the few feeble attempts at what may be interpreted as offering aid or kindness are cloaked in and motivated by a hellish outlook on life and lead only to further ruin.

In Los Angeles, following circumstances driven mostly by happenstance, Florida is identified and pursued by a police detective named Lobos (a name too close for comfort to Dios). She spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her male partner, Easton, that despite his misgivings, women are capable of the violence attributed to Florida and Dios. Fueled by an addiction to breath mints, Lobos’s skills at detection and police work are often distracted and interrupted by the shadowy presence of an estranged husband suffering mental illness and homelessness.

Some readers will find the Prologue off-putting and abandon the book unread at the beginning, as those introductory pages offer little more than the author’s demonstration that she knows a bad word, and knows how to use that particular profanity repeatedly and for no purpose—an observation bolstered by the fact that that character, “Kace,” never resorts to such inane overuse of the obscenity in any of her other appearances throughout the novel.

Finally, the novel is set during those dismal days of the corona virus lockdown. But those days seem too recent to have become fixed in our shared history, and too distant to be present in our daily lives, and so the pandemic and its effects serve no real purpose in the story. And that, it seems—a lack of purpose—describes the whole of Sing Her Down.