Rain Dragon

By Jon Raymond; Bloomsbury (2012) $16

Review by Casey Bush

Rain dragon book coverAmy wants to get back to the land while Damon is willing to follow Amy to the ends of the Earth.  So they pack the car, abandon Los Angeles, move to Oregon and find employment on a yogurt farm. Amy becomes a bee keeper while Damon gets involved in marketing both falling under the spell of Rain Dragon owner, Peter Hawk, part Ken Kesey, part Zig Zigler, who aids the couple in their personal  and professional transformations.

Jon Raymond’s second novel is told from Damon’s detached point of view as though his world is passing by the lens of a camera. The story is divided into four unequal seasons and portrays a common modern quest, abandoning the city for the country. Rain Dragon depicts the dilemma of individuals trying to maintain their sense of identity while becoming a cog in the wheels of business and slowly morphs into a morality tale as agricultural products march to an inevitable market. The story turns upon Hawk’s interest in selling his management methods rather than yogurt. Raymond’s naturalist prose takes on an ironic sensibility as the Rain Dragon staff try their hand at increasing the productivity of a paper mill.

As Raymond explained to “The Believer”:  “I wanted to write about new age spirituality in a way that others might write about Catholicism; manifesting one’s own destiny is a theme that circulates in the book… Self-actualization ideologies are baked deep into our DNA here – the tools of the encounter group, the meta-communication…With organic farming and its progressive ideals, there is some kind of intellectual relationship between these worlds.  And the vocabulary is now steeped into corporate America, it’s how business people now talk about projects…Silicon Valley was built on this new-agey sense of spiritual achievement. Steve Jobs was a pure product of this consciousness-raising.”

At the end of the novel we are left to wonder at the future course of Damon’s shattered life and likewise I found myself contemplating the trajectory of Jon Raymond’s literary career.   Perhaps best known for the screen plays he wrote for Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) and Todd Haynes’ Emmy magnet TV mini-series “Mildred Pierce”, Raymond views himself as a writer of fiction who has fallen into the company of movie directors. His short story collection, Sustainability, and previous novel The Half Life are similar to Rain Dragon in that they feature the sympathetic portrayal of human beings caught up in circumstances beyond their control.   All his fiction is marked by compelling descriptions of the natural world, a skill at which Raymond excels despite his admission that he rarely gets to the mountains and believes the Oregon Coast is haunted.   But with The Half Life anchored  in the pioneer era and the beaver trade, and Rain Dragon the current day obsession with natural foods and motivational seminars, I can just imagine Raymond’s next novel will be set in a 22nd Century Oregon where every house has a  windmill, Pacific tides have been chained to turbines and the volcanic peaks of the Cascades are capped with thermal engines. Somewhere amidst such science fiction clutter he will tell a tender story about love and friendships that intersect with commercial concerns while planted firmly on a somehow still beautiful Earth situated precariously close to the edge of Outer Space.