I picked up Marisa Silver's, The God of War, at a Goodreads book exchange several years ago. I just grabbed it on a hunch and it has been sitting on my bookshelf. I am very happy to have picked it up and to have finally read it, because it is a fantastic book.
Set by the desolate Salton Sea in California and told through the eyes of twelve year old Ares Ramirez, The God Of War, is a disturbing coming of age story about a kid trying to navigate adolescence in the shadow of a highly dysfunctional family.
The Salton Sea and surrounding shanty towns are as big of a character as any in the story. Having visited the Salton Sea for the first time (and hopefully only time) last Spring, I can completely appreciate the truth of the world that Silver has created. I've never visited somewhere so depressing. The smell of rotten fish permeates and walking on crunching fish bones along the shore was memorable. Even though the book is set in the 70's, the town that she describes is exactly what you will see if you were to visit it today. Having lush Palm Springs just a short drive away, really makes the area extra depressing.
This is a community that lives on the fringe, holding tight to their privacy. Ares and his mentally handicapped brother, Malcolm, live with their neglectful mother in a trailer. The thing that is heartbreaking is the mother isn't purposefully negligent, she sincerely loves her family and feels that she is raising her boys in the best manner possible. Ares sees an alternate life with stability, when a librarian from the school intervenes to tutor Malcolm.
The entire story has Ares crying out for love and attention in a variety of ways, sometimes negatively. The sad truth of the entire situation is even when adults intervene, they have to do so at a distance to respect the mother and blood family unit. This is such a pervasive problem in our society and this novel only highlights it through Ares and Malcolm's struggle. Many people see a problem, but nobody steps up in a long-term, meaningful way.
Ares is a kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders, both real and imagined responsibilities. His struggle is a heartbreak to read. Silver gives an authentic and emotive voice to her narrator and tells a compelling story.
I highly recommend The God of War and look forward to reading more novels by Silver.