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Book Review: God’s Middle Finger

God’s Middle Finger
By Richard Grant
Simon & Schuster, 2008

With his marriage collapsing and his life increasingly given over to morbid drinking binges, Richard Grant conceived of a project to snap him from his malaise: he would travel through the lawless, murderous Sierra Madre in Mexico, a mountainous region ruled by various warring drug cartels, and then he would write a book about it. If the God invoked in Grant’s title actually existed and there really was such a thing as justice, Grant would be a bullet-ridden corpse in a dry wash and a person who died doing something innocent would still be alive. But since such is not the case, we can be glad that Grant did escape (by a hair’s breadth) his idiotic quest in order to write a book as zesty and eye-opening as God’s Middle Finger.

Like the best travel writers, Grant is attentive to the telling eccentricities of the cultures he eavesdrops on, as in this description of the Easter ritual of an indigenous group called the Tarahumaras, which mostly involves drinking huge amounts of corn-based beer:

Four centuries ago the Jesuits had tried to bring Christianity alive for the Tarahumaras by staging Easter morality plays. They formed the Indians into companies and showed them how to reenact the persecution of Christ, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. In the Jesuit days, the soldiers and the Pharisees were the joint persecutors of Christ. But many drunken Holy Weeks had passed since then and now the Pharisees and the soldiers had ended up on opposite sides, representing good and evil, although their affiliations are switched in some villages. Here it was obvious who was who. You can always tell the evil bastards in the Sierra Madre by their AK-47s.

It’s the evil bastards—the “whoreson goat fornicators” and “sons of obscene perpetrations,” in Grant’s funny transliterations—who own the mountains, making the Sierra Madre one of the most savage, stygian, illiterate, corrupt, misogynistic, bandit-infested, nihilistic regions in the entire world, the sort of place where people shoot one another for no more reason than “to please the trigger finger” (as Grant was told by a man who would shortly try to kill him). For all the grimness of his material, though, Grant gives God’s Middle Finger a merry, sarcastic flair that will thoroughly entertain you even as it eradicates your interest in ever setting foot in this vicious hellhole.

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