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Delicious descriptions from Down under: Andrew Croome on Nevada

May 12, 2013

I recently reviewed Andrew Croome’s Midnight empire which is mostly set in and around Las Vegas, an area I have travelled through several times. Here is Croome’s description of his protagonist Daniel being introduced to the region:

English: Basin and range desert in Nevada

Mojave Desert, Nevada (Photo credit: amateria1121, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikipedia)

Mythic horizons. They drove into the liquid road-shimmer of the desert, past the Joshua trees and the creosote bushes that bordered the I95.

It was midday, the sun unforgiving. They drove at seventy miles an hour but it seemed slower, the effects of the desert; their perceptions of depth made strange, as if light itself had shortened. It was terrain that felt planetary, the dry sink of an enormous Martian basin, a forever geology of heat and shale.

There is something otherworldly about deserts – any deserts – and the landscape around Las Vegas is typical desert in that sense. It’s vast, multi-hued, vegetated by unusual plants, and both forbidding and mesmerising in that way that is unique to deserts.

Deserts are popular places for secret military activity. Think atomic testing at White Sands in New Mexico and Maralinga in Australia. So too, Creech Airforce Base in Nevada, which is the setting for Midnight empire and which has a long military history from its early involvement in nuclear testing and to drone warfare today.

Croome’s description of the landscape Daniel drives through is evocative, although I do get a bit tripped up on the “terrain that felt planetary”. Isn’t the earth a planet? What exactly does “planetary” mean? I’m probably being a bit picky, though, because, overall the two paragraphs do herald the rather surreal world – physical and mental – that Daniel becomes embroiled in. And anyhow, I couldn’t resist sharing with you his reference to Joshua Trees (pictured in the photo above) because they are worth sharing …

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2013 12:29 am

    I get the image of looking at something similar to the moon landscape, but it’s always awkward when an image doesn’t work for a reader and then you’re left puzzling out what the writer means instead of thinking about the plot. It’s a lot like listening to someone’s tale of woe and then realizing that what they are saying is illogical. You get stuck on the illogicalities and miss the rest.

    • May 13, 2013 8:48 am

      Yes, Guy, That’s what I initially got – that sense of a non-earthly ladscape, which is why I marked it … And then when I typed it out I started to wonder why it worked! Sometimes you can overthink can’t you!

  2. May 13, 2013 7:20 am

    “forever geology of heat and shale” forgives “planetary” (and he might have meant wandering or erratic?).

    • May 13, 2013 8:52 am

      Oh yes, thanks Karen Lee … That last line is great isn’t it. As for “planetary”, there could be a bit of what you say in it.

    • May 14, 2013 4:38 am

      I’m in love with the imagination of “wandering or erratic” but how you could apply it to desert outside Las Vegas I’m not sure: blanched dirt, low brush, and mainly stillness. There’s a nice passage about South-West desert visuals in John C. Van Dyke’s The Desert (1901):

      “On the desert, perspective is always erratic. Bodies fail to detach themselves from one another, foreshortening is abnormal, the planes of landscape are flattened out of shape or telescoped, objects are huddled together or superimposed upon another. The disturbance in aerial perspective is just as bad. Colors, lights and shadows fall into contradictions and denials, they shirk and bear false witness, and confuse the judgment of the most experienced.”

      I am not the “most experienced” but I’ve found this pretty true — the mountains themselves advance and retreat depending on the time of day. If the air is clear then they’re just down the road, if the air is dusty then they might as well be in Alaska.

      • May 14, 2013 7:38 pm

        I like that description of the SW deserts DKS … Thanks for sharing it … That sense of altered perception comes across well.

  3. May 13, 2013 1:08 pm

    I almost feel like you picked this in honour of where I’ll be flying out of in July… 😉

  4. Meg permalink
    May 13, 2013 3:59 pm

    Following your recommendation I have the book from the library, and will begin reading it this week. It seems to me the narrator is going through a surreal experience.

    Meg

    • May 14, 2013 7:41 pm

      Hmm … My reply to you Meg seems to have got gobbled up! I look forward to hearing what you think of the novel.

  5. May 13, 2013 11:58 pm

    I liked this. Especially the idea of time being warped by the density and endlessness of heat. I’ve never seen a Joshua tree but I remember the baobabs in Burkina Faso, how each one seemed like a temple. I find deserts quite unnerving!

    • May 14, 2013 7:35 pm

      I’m glad you liked it Catherine … I think he does convey that sense of warping or altered perception well. And I love weird desert plants like Joshua trees and Saguaro and Baobabs … Well I guess Baobabs are more tropical aren’t they, but I’ve seen them in remote Australia which makes me think deserts.

  6. May 15, 2013 2:34 am

    When you were in the States did you ever make it to Joshua Tree National Park? Amazing place. That’s a great description by Croome. Since “planetary” comes in the same sentence as Mars, perhaps he intends it to mean other-worldly. In the middle of the desert you really can feel like you are on another planet.

    • May 15, 2013 1:08 pm

      Stefanie, yes we did, several times. Absolutely loved it. It’s a wonderful place isn’t it?

      And yes that’s how I “read” planetary the first time I read the description but you know how it is when you read something again?

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