The back cover of Firewater claims that it's "a brutally funny environmental suspense novel." The front cover uses a quote from Mary Bringle (author of Murder Most Gentrified, whatever the hell that is), which asserts that "This may not be the first environmental novel, but it's the first one that produces belly laughs."

First, there's no such thing as an "environmental suspense novel." (I know because I looked it up on the internet, and the closest thing I could find was some sci-fi book about how the North Pole melts and sinks Los Angeles.) Second, Firewater isn't "brutally funny," nor does it produce "belly laughs." It is brutal, but in a vicious, painful way, and it does produce something to do with my belly, that being a strong desire to eviscerate myself.

Author Edward Stone Cohen seems desperate to launch his ill-conceived eco-thriller genre, and he's created an equally ill-conceived cast of characters to help him do it. Cohen uses only two techniques for characterization--refusing to define any attributes whatsoever (he doesn't even disclose one major protagonist's gender until like page forty), and, as in the case of his Bukowski rip-off Chief Shelldrake, using descriptions such as "The Chief was a beautiful caged-gorilla of a man."

Since the book somehow got published, you'd think Cohen's plot or style would be worthwhile, even if the characters aren't. Nope. Cohen constantly switches narrators, which wouldn't be a problem if he was clear about who was talking, which he's not. (Initially, I assumed it was a Faulkner-esque style thing, but then I figured out it was only blathering incompetence.) Throw in Cohen's unrelenting and simplistic rants about the evils of Olestra and far-fetched government conspiracies, and the result is a practically non-existent story told with a style that manages to be more annoying than all of Hawthorne's hippies combined.

There is one good thing about Firewater: it's so godawful that there probably won't be any further "environmental suspense novel" attempts. Firewater's been published posthumously, and at first I wondered if it'd be morally OK to rip on a dead guy's writing. Then I realized that if Cohen's dead, he can't write anymore. My giddiness at that thought wiped that nagging ethical quandary right out of my head. ERIK HENRIKSEN

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