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The God of War
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The God of War

4.3 6
by Marisa Silver

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The year is 1978. Ares Ramirez, age 12, lives with his mother, Laurel, and his younger brother Malcolm in a trailer at the edge of the Salton Sea, an unintentionally man-made body of water in the middle of the Southern California desert. It is a desolate, forgotten place, whose inhabitants thrive amidst seemingly impossible circumstances.

Where birds fly by day


The year is 1978. Ares Ramirez, age 12, lives with his mother, Laurel, and his younger brother Malcolm in a trailer at the edge of the Salton Sea, an unintentionally man-made body of water in the middle of the Southern California desert. It is a desolate, forgotten place, whose inhabitants thrive amidst seemingly impossible circumstances.

Where birds fly by day across the desert sky, by night government fighter planes and helicopters make training runs using live ammunition, and an anonymous dead body floats in from the sea. These events inspire Ares, on the cusp of his adolescence, to enact elaborate fantasies of mortal combat. His membership in a troubled family marks Ares as a casualty of a different kind of war. Malcolm, age 7, is mentally handicapped, and his mother chooses not to do anything about it.

Ares' struggle with the burden of responsibility -- to himself and to others -- draws him into a world of drugs, violence, and sex that he is not prepared for, launching him into a very personal battle for his own identity, one that has a lethal outcome.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A stunning novel...Finely wrought characters and an illuminating portrait of [a] secret world...make for a powerful, often tragic tale." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Marisa Silver's The God of War is a novel of great metaphorical depth and beauty. It stays with you like a lesson well and truly learned." -- Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls

"The God of War is such a stunning dive into a desert landscape few have understood and loved as deeply as Marisa Silver. It is no man's land, and every man's land -- there, her people wage epic battles for their lives, for their loyalties, and for their very fierce versions of love." -- Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales and Highwire Moon

"Marisa Silver's The God of War is as gripping as it is beautifully written. By the end I ached for these brothers, Ares and Malcolm, as if they were my own family, and I will not forget them." -- Peter Orner, author of Esther Stories and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo

"Marisa Silver is the author for whom we've all been waiting. With unabashed voice she steadily, bravely, unerringly tells a heartbreakingly beautiful story for our time. The God of War is the truest novel I've read in ages." -- Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Publishers Weekly

Scott Brick lends his talent to Silver's multilayered coming-of-age novel. The story unfolds from the point-of-view of 12-year-old Ares Ramirez and his hardscrabble '70s childhood in a remote Southern California desert community, and much of the focus surrounds Ares's relationship with Malcolm, his mentally disabled six-year-old brother. Malcolm's autistic symptoms render him uncommunicative, which poses a tremendous challenge for Brick, as Silver chooses to portray Malcolm's mannerisms and behaviors mostly through Ares's reflections. Yet Brick rises to the occasion, with compelling results. Brick delivers especially heartfelt performances as the two principle female characters: the brothers' bohemian mother and an enigmatic school librarian. The novel's structure may not lend itself to an easy transition to audio, but as the action transforms from preteen angst to dark explorations of violence and family dysfunction, listeners will appreciate Brick's ability to navigate the terrain. A Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18). (May)

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Library Journal

Twelve-year-old Ares Ramirez has a life as unique as his name. His mother, who has a taste for men who don't stick around, raises Ares and his mentally handicapped brother, Malcolm, on the shores of the isolated Salton Sea in the California desert. Ares is saddled with far too much responsibility while his mother flits through life as a free spirit, leaving him to watch over the brother Ares thinks he damaged by dropping him accidentally as a baby. Ares looks elsewhere for the attention and acceptance he's not getting at home, finally finding it in the kindly librarian who tutors Malcolm and her dangerous foster son, Kevin. Ares's new friend leads him on a path of destruction with a tragic end. New Yorker contributor Silver (No Direction Home) writes a dark and devastating coming-of-age story. Even though most readers will not have lived the tough life that Ares has, they are sure to relate to his search for a place in the world. Highly recommended for most collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/07.]
—Leann Restaino

Kirkus Reviews
A stunning second novel from Silver (No Direction Home, 2005, etc.): the coming-of-age tale of a boy growing up in the California desert with his autistic brother. In 1978 Ares is 12 years old, a little man in charge of his younger brother Malcolm, who is mute, odd and fiercely defended by their mother Laurel, a counter-culture masseuse. They live in a trailer on the shore of the Salton Sea, a dying saltwater lake in the desert between Palm Springs and the edge of nowhere, a desolate place peopled by misfits and the tenacious few willing to live the hardscrabble life. Laurel practices a sort of loving carelessness with the boys, expecting Ares to fix meals, take Malcolm to the dentist, act as go-between with the school. Ares acquiesces, in large part because of the crippling guilt he feels in regards to Malcolm; having accidentally dropped him as a baby, he thinks he's responsible for Malcolm's condition. Laurel believes Malcolm to be perfect and hates the school that wants to test and label him, to steal his innocence with a diagnosis. The school librarian, Mrs. Poole, begins to work with Malcolm at her home, and there Ares finds a world of order and rules, a conventional normalcy as exotic to him as any desert fossil his mother brings home for display. At Mrs. Poole's he meets her foster-care son Kevin, a 15-year-old with a history of violence who becomes Ares's first real friend. Silver's novel is full of looming menace-the pock-marked bleakness of the landscape (used at night for military practice), the violence Malcolm seems capable of (the school finds a shallow grave of birds he's killed), the very real risk of Kevin, sociopathic and strung out on drugs-but perhaps the mostdangerous threat is Ares's growing adolescent rebellion, which jeopardizes their already fragile family. Finely wrought characters and an illuminating portrait of the secret world of autism makes for a powerful, often tragic tale. Agent: Henry Dunow/Dunow, Carlson, & Lerner

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Where I grew up, people kept their business to themselves. I lived in the desert, far enough east of the big cities of Southern California to render them meaningless to my daily life, closer to the border of Mexico than most people would have liked to admit. People did not so much choose to live in that parched frontier as they ended up there. It was a place generally ignored because it did not have much to offer, and so it was a place where you could be left alone. The desert's plants and animals thrived in seemingly impossible circumstances, against heat and drought and other odds. The same could have been said of its people, too.

On a spring afternoon in the late 1970s, a boy I knew died of a gunshot wound. The boy was of no consequence. During his life he had been tossed from home to home like the object in a game of hot potato, while one or another well-meaning soul tried to handle him, then passed him on when the real heat of his nature became untenable. It would be hard to make a case for his goodness given the deceitful and sometimes violent things he did. And as much as I was captive to the bright, angry flame of him when I was young, I cannot, even now, easily point to his value except that he happened to be alive for a time through no fault or talent of his own.

The news of the shooting made its way from the local newspaper to the big city papers in San Diego and Los Angeles where it was reworked and retold so that our story became unrecognizable to us, and we read the paragraphs incredulously as if we couldn't imagine people who lived like that. The story captured readers' imaginations not because of the boy who was shot, but because of my brother, whose mute, some would say insensate, presence occasioned the killing. What captured people's attention, what had the phone ringing in our trailer in Bombay Beach until my mother tore it out of the wall, what provoked an intrepid young reporter from San Diego to make his way to our overlooked town, was the fact that my brother could not talk or read or write, was more at home with objects than people, and could not look a person in the eye or suffer a stranger's hand on his narrow shoulder without screaming as if he had been branded. He could not, finally, tell any judge or jury what had happened that day to cause such violence. He was a boy locked up in himself. Now there are words for the kind of child my brother was, labels and therapeutic regimens and even drugs. But thirty years ago, in the remote place where we lived, science had not caught up to us, and diagnoses of abnormal behavior, when they were made at all, ran to generalities. My brother was simply "backward," as if he were a sweater someone had put on wrong. It was left to others to speak for him, to tell our story to the police, judge, and the newspaper reporters, who then turned the information inside out, so that the boy who died was forgotten, my brother became the unwitting victim, and I became a hero. But I was not a hero that day.

Copyright © 2008 Marisa Silver

Meet the Author

Marisa Silver is the author of the novel Little Nothing, published in September 2016. Her other novels include Mary Coin, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Southern California Independent Bookseller’s Award. The God of War, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and No Direction Home. Her first collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. When her second collection, Alone With You was published, The New York Times called her “one of California’s most celebrated contemporary writers.” Her fiction has been included in The Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as other anthologies. She lives in Los Angeles. For more, visit MarisaSilver.com.

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God of War 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Singing_Bookworm More than 1 year ago
The summary doesn't really do the book justice. This is an amazing book! You experience the guilt of a young brother and the confusion of puberty. It's really a buildungsroman, as in it's basically a story about growing up. I warn you it is kind of slow to start, but once you get a few chapters into it, it's hard to put the book down! I definately recommend God of War by Marisa Silver.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating & learned a lot
mystiqueAS More than 1 year ago
The story surrounds the life of a twelve year old (Ares) and his diificulties of dealing with his brother who is autistic. Ares is going through puberty and he is battling boundaries as well as a host of other life circumstances.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The gripping story of 12 year old Ares Ramirez,his loving but troubled family scratching out a life at the edge of the barren Salton Sea, and his desperate efforts to find his own path in a haunting and desolate landscape. A must for lovers of the mystical Southern California landscape and anyone caught in the loving net of close family ties.