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D. K. Willis
4.0 out of 5 starsIf you love west Texas, read this novel
Reviewed in the United States on October 4, 2018
A first novel by a west Texas native and newspaper reporter with a long pedigree. This is one of the best novels I have ever read, and in my 70+ years I am pretty well-read. The structure is unusual, starting with flashback diary notes by the principal character "Troy" about previous crimes committed for the authorities to find "whenever." The flashback notes continue throughout the novel until the dramatic ending. For anyone who knows west Texas even a little, as I do, the narrative descriptions of the people, places, and things ring true -- even today, though the novel is set in the early 1970's. Mr. Kennedy is a fine writer, though prone to the use of a bit too many descriptors: "Along the back was a kind of bivouac kitchen with a single-burner hot plate, an electric-pot, and a small larder of plates, cups, and boxed goods arranged on a two-by-eight plank raised off the concrete floor on cinder blocks." (p. 55) There is a lot of this stuff in the book. BUT it does not really derail the overall narrative drive of this mighty suspenseful novel. Again, if you are a fan of west Texas, read this book; it will grab you. And it ends in Presidio...
3.0 out of 5 starsQuirky, fascinating, and sometimes dull
Reviewed in the United States on October 31, 2019
Hmm . . . Presidio was one of the quirkiest (and sometimes boring) books I've read in a long time. We've got this car thief, Troy, along with his brother Harlan, then Martha, a Mennonite girl who somehow was inadvertently kidnapped, and just, well, a boatload of really odd occurrences.
Troy, who seems totally unable to deal with society in a conventional manner, is clever at stealing cars. He abandons most pretty damned quickly, then steals another. He uses them to make his way to down-and-out motels, where he's content to stay for a while, but never terribly long. Makes sense. He's done time and didn't much care for it, so this is his survival strategy.
Mind you, Troy is not a bad man. Neither is his brother, or nearly any other character who might appear in the story. For the most part, they're all just lost souls, making their way across the Texas landscape from one mild misadventure to another. But it's that landscape thing that distracted me from the characters and occasionally made me want to abandon the book. I mean, setting is important in novels. It is. However, endless description of essentially the same kind of environment can become interference and unnecessary padding.
All that said, if you're in the mood for something very different, then you'll find it in Presidio. In a very strange way, it might even stick in your mind. Indeed, I believe this is Kennedy's first novel. Thus, despite my reservations about the novel, I'd try another from this author down the road.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Great Alienated Antihero Anchors This Seventies-Set Texas Noir
Reviewed in the United States on August 12, 2019
(After writing this review, I've since reread PRESIDIO and enjoyed it far more the second time around. So I upgraded my review, initially posted on Amazon, from four stars to five. It is a rich, textured, authoritative look at a low-level criminal drifter in 1972 Texas with deep, fully dimensional characterizations and a ringingly authentic sense of time and place whose strengths far outpace its fleeting weaknesses.)
I went into Randy Kennedy’s debut novel PRESIDIO with a lot of ambivalence, and emerged with the same, and, well … I didn’t regret the effort it took to get there.
I was intrigued by Lee Child’s review of it in The New York Times, in which he praised the authenticity of its early 1970s Texas noir and its intriguingly alienated main character, an itinerant motel dweller and car thief who does what he does for survival more than profit. And I was annoyed by the review, which seemed to say that its blurbs from a couple of noted Texas literary heavyweights were reason enough to read the book, which to me strays outside the bounds of a reviewer’s scope. Every once in a while, A-listers come together to lift up an author, having decided on their own that the author’s time had come for promotion into their elite, and in my view the books they chose were usually not the right vehicle for it (i.e., the worthy Steve Hamilton and the less worthy THE SECOND LIFE OF NICK MASON, which read to me like the quickie novelization of a story created to be a screenplay).
Also, PRESIDIO stumbles out of the gate with its split structure: half narrative and half extended epistolary matter. The latter renders the novel so heavy with italics that you may find yourself racing past things you need to know just to get back to a typeface that doesn’t irritate your eyes.
Another alienating early feature is PRESIDIO’s occasionally overreaching prose, which reads like that of an uneducated small-town Texan scamming his way into the Iowa Writers Workshop and seemingly desperate to assert a place among its overweeners: “Sometimes I sit in a hot bath, one leg crossed over the other, thinking about the world at work while I watch the pulse of my heartbeat in the hollow of my ankle.” Ugh.
But, well … there’s something more there. Something that works in spite of the sluggish interiority and the soggy but apparently mandatory meditations on the sparse south Texas landscape. For me, that something is Troy Falconer, the main POV voice of PRESIDIO, a man of equally profound and pointless alienation, a man who lives in cheap motels and steals cheap cars not so much because he’s bad but because he’s good at it, and doesn’t want to do anything else even as he’s dimly aware that at some point he probably should.
Maybe because I’m sort of a solo drifter on the margins myself, lines like this really stuck the landing for me: “My real profession is the careful and highly precarious maintenance of a life almost completely purified of personal property” and “He had an uncommon capacity for two things: lying and enjoying his own company.”
The plot is somewhat beside the point, and it shows in PRESIDIO’s rushed and uninspired ending. But it’s sturdy enough to keep readers on the hook: Troy and his brother Harlan undertake a road trip to find Bettie, a woman of intimate history with both men who stole Harlan’s money. Troy steals one car after another to keep them moving, and one—a station wagon belonging to a mother in a grocery store—turns out, hours after the theft, to contain a young girl half in and half out of the Mennonite world. Troy, who usually operates well below law enforcement radar, is suddenly a major target.
PRESIDIO isn’t as good as its A-lister praise would suggest. It’s a novel that demands more of the reader than, as a debut, it’s earned the right to ask, in my opinion. But if you hook on to what’s good about it, as I managed to, you might be glad that you did. After I read a book, I always ask myself: “Would you read the next book by this author?” And despite my ambivalence, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
3.0 out of 5 starsCar theft, swindling, and kidnapping but not that good a story
Reviewed in the United States on November 9, 2018
I wouldn't classify this as a "page turner" because the action is a bit lugubrious. Plus the characters are unlikable. A good bit of the story is conveyed via letters or journal entries written by the main character and these are more confusing than illuminating. The ending is disappointing and unsatisfying from the reader's perspective--when I got to the last chapter I had no idea that was the last chapter. The author seems pretty self-conscious about the narrative techniques and the story is compromised because of that apparent focus on forced technique (which I don't think works). On a brighter note, I'm thinking that this might translate really well into a movie--flawed characters who get themselves into an unexpected muddle. I did learn a lot about cars given that the main character is a car thief and the cars are usually described in great detail. Also lots of geographic info about real Texas towns! We actually ate at one of the truck stops mentioned in some detail in the story!
3.0 out of 5 starsLike the Texas drawl, real,slow.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 20, 2018
Harlan reconnects with his brother, Troy, in the hope of tracking down his ex-wife who left him high and dry. Troy is a car thief and this proves to be a useful life skill as the twosome make their arbitrary way across Texas.
The first half of the book consists mostly of diary entries from Troy or is scene setting for how the brothers came to this point. Once they inadvertently pick up a passenger in the form of a ten year old Mennonite girl named Martha,the pace picks up but not to the point that you are racing on to the next chapter.
Filled with lyrical passages and melancholy, I cannot fault the writing. Not enough impetus for me though.