Book Review by Heidi Simmons
It is refreshing to come across a new author. Although Jon Raymond is new to me, he is not new to the craft of writing. Raymond is an award winning novelist and screenwriter. His first novel The Half-Life was a Publishers Weekly Best Book in 2004, and his short story collection Livability, was a winner of the 2009 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. Raymond’s screenplay adaptation for Mildred Pierce, the HBO 2011 miniseries, was nominated for an Emmy.
Rain Dragon (Bloomsbury, 272 pages) is Raymond’s second novel. It is the story of Damon and Amy’s struggling relationship. Both college grads in their late twenties, they want something more from work and life. After mediocre jobs and living in Los Angeles, they pull up stakes and head north to Oregon, hoping to participate in an organic farm called “Rain Dragon,” known for its progressive work environment and natural yogurt and yogurt products.
Once there, they try to fit in by finding work that is suitable for their abilities as well as challenging. Neither Damon nor Amy has farming background or experience, but both are eager to give it a try. Amy adjusts right away and discovers she is particularly adept at bee keeping. Damon however, only discovers he is completely useless at most farm tasks — what’s worse; everyone on the farm knows it. After several hours of physical labor setting tile in an out building he says, “I calculated we had at least three more hours of tiling to go, and I’d already run out of major thoughts to think.”
Damon narrates the story. He is bright, witty and holds no illusions about making the farm idea work. He and Amy have been living together for three years. She has left him and come back three times. He says early on: “Please, let this be where Amy’s Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy finally blossoms to life, where she starts jarring pickles, churning butter, building a sod house, whatever. Let all her creative impulses finally take root. Because if Rain Dragon failed to deliver on these hopes, if this, too, was a bust, we very well might be lost for good.” When Damon finally finds his niche, as the farms Public Relations manager, the farm seems to separate them more than bring them together.
The novel becomes a business, entrepreneurial adventure after Damon takes on the PR role and partners with his hippie, millionaire boss. A lot is at stake for his demanding overlord, but with nothing to loose Damon manages to get the job done and much to his own surprise, done well. Author Raymond gets so caught up in the writing of the creative business endeavor that he sometimes forgets the reader is waiting to know what’s going on with Damon and Amy.
At times, the business franchise Damon and his boss hope to build sounds more like an industry idea or model author Raymond is fleshing out for himself. I enjoyed Damon’s challenge, but I did notice Amy’s absence and Damon’s sudden lack of interest in the woman he allegedly loves and hopes to marry. But perhaps that is Damon’s flaw — getting so involved in the work that he briefly forgets about the one he cares about most.
Damon’s character is a contemporary profile of a man from his generation. He loves his girlfriend, but instead of being upset or on her case for her bad behavior, unnecessary drama and even infidelity, he’s understanding and looks for the positive, still hoping for a future together. He’s thoughtful, considerate and not out of touch with his feelings. It makes Damon sympathetic and endearing. He is a genuine good guy addressing his relationship the best way he can. This is what makes Rain Dragon so refreshing. It is the opposite of chick-lit — women’s fiction around women’s often romantic issues.
It’s nice that author Raymond allows Damon his mind, his ideas and his love without telling us why he does what he does. Although Raymond hints at Damon’s motivations, he doesn’t spend the time telling the reader Damon’s emotional state. This enables the reader to observe and appreciate the character and his actions as it unfolds making it a pleasure to be caught up in Damon’s life and plans.
Rain Dragon is full of fun, interesting and unusual characters. There is a life the characters seek that is realistic, relatable and beguiling. Damon and Amy’s ideals for a productive good life give one hope and insight into the smart generation of young working Americans who must adapt to the bizarre and quickly changing world around them. This summer, consider Jon Raymond’s Rain Dragon. It is an organic experience.