The Savage by Frank Bill

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“Do what you must to others and abandon weakness.”

For as long as Van Dorn can remember, those words, which represented his father’s worldview, were drilled into him at every opportunity. Little could Van Dorn have realized just how grim things would become, and how ruthlessly he would have to put that philosophy into action in an America spun violently out of control in author Frank Bill’s latest, The Savage.

Bill burst onto the scene with his powerful collection Crimes in Southern Indiana, which was named by GQ magazine as one of the best books of 2011. Next came the hard-hitting novel Donnybrook, which is currently in production by director Tim Sutton with Frank Grillo starring.

The Savage, which picks up a few years after the events of Donnybrook, takes readers on a journey through an American that is both deeply disturbing and yet more easy to envision with each passing day. Devoid of morality or decency, well-armed, ruthless militias have carved out pockets of territory they defend without mercy and seek to expand. Those not willing to join, or not powerful enough to resist, are forced to flee or be crushed.

They wanted change, so they’d taken out the grids, the world’s power switch, eliminating lights, sounds, and anything that warranted electricity, and what followed was the images of men being kneeled in front of women and children, homes besieged by flame, a pistol or rifle indenting a face enraged by fear, hurt, and anger. Trigger pulled. Brain, skull, and hair fertilizing the soil with departure. One man’s life taken by another without mercy.

In this mad landscape, Van Dorn moves through the shadows, employing the survival skills and self-reliance his father taught him in order to eke out a day-to-day existence. Despite knowing intellectually how bad things are, it is not until Van Dorn encounters a transport carrying women and children to be used as slaves, and he recognizes a young woman he once knew among them, that the true horror of what his world has become hits home.

The story that author Frank Bill unfurls from that point is an authorial masterclass in mixing horror with beauty, vengeance with grace, despair with hope. The Savage is an unflinching look at one possible result of the deepening gulf between the haves and have-nots, of what could happen when those being continually marginalized and pushed into bleak existences from which they see no escape finally say enough is enough.

The Savage is neither a light nor relaxing read by any stretch, but it is an important one.

The Savage is available from FSG Originals.

Frank Bill is the author of the novel Donnybrook and the story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana, one of GQ’s favorite books of 2011 and a Daily Beast best debut of 2011. He lives and writes in southern Indiana.

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