Written by on March 6, 2009

Wrack and Ruin

warcover3001.jpgWrack and Ruin by Don Lee is a departure from his recent books. Lee won an American Book Award for Country of Origin, as well as the 2005 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. Country of Origin is described as a dark thriller. Wrack and Ruin is falls more into the romp category. Set in a fictionalized version of Half Moon Bay, its main character is Lyndon Song, a formerly successful sculptor who has become disenchanted with the New York art scene. He has moved out to the sticks to farm, of all things, organic Brussels sprouts. The rest of the cast includes a vengeful ex-girlfriend who drives nails into his tires, a shark-chomped surfer, Juju, with a prosthetic foot, Lyndon’s brother Woody, who’s attempting to produce a martial arts movie, Yi Ling Ling, a fading martial arts movie star hoping to make her comeback in Woody’s movie, and assorted golf course developers, dope dealers, and teenage misfits. The plot is entertaining, and the main characters have enough depth to take them beyond two dimensions, though some of the plot twists (a rampaging elephant, a paint ball war between Lyndon and a USC-fanatic golf course developer) border on cartoon, or at least Tom Robbins or Christopher Moore.

Lee’s characters are Asian American, but this novel isn’t “about” ethnicity. Click here to read an interview in Asian Week, in which he admits to being tired of writing about race. In the book, some of Lyndon’s reasons for abandoning the art world are similar.

The parts of the book I enjoyed were not the prankish ones, but moments where Lyndon awakes from his non-introspective way of life to a flash of insight about himself, his life, or the workings of someone else’s mind. Here, he’s out on a date with a massage therapist who’s unkinked his neck, scrabbling to keep the conversation going:

The waitress took their drink orders — hot sake for her, a bottle of Sapporo for him — and then they deliberated over the dishes again, Laura unable to decide, and Lyndon realized that she was as flustered as he was, stalling, for after exhausting all the happy rituals and distractions of the pre-meal, picking out what they wanted to eat and getting their drinks and relating their order to the waitress and toasting and drinking, they stared at each other with sudden vacuous panic, neither having anything to say whatsoever… Lyndon asked if she’d heard about the humpback whale that had washed ashore and the ensuing fiasco, and of course she had, who hadn’t, which gave Lyndon and Laura, despite their guilt over laughing about the death and undignified disposition of an endangered species, a good, hearty chortle, except then, as their laughter faded, they realized, just as they had been lulled into thinking that things were going well, just as they were beginning to relax, that they had run out of things to say, the balls dropping, the roof deflating, the tanks wheezing into the most dreaded of all moments during a first date, dead air — good God, why did people go on dates? why would anyone willingly subject themselves to this type of torture? — when, in desperation, people were liable to resort to anything — where was their food, goddammit? — uttering something they didn’t intend to, something ill-advised, the last thing they planned to say, simply to keep the conversation going, keep the evening alive — he was overboard, sharks afoot — which was what Lyndon did, blurting out to Laura, “I have something I need to confess to you.”

20080421_lee_3.jpg“What?” she asked.

And now, even though he knew it was a mistake, he couldn’t retreat, he couldn’t think of anything else to confess. “I told you I”m divorced. The truth is, I’ve never been married.”

Wrack and Ruin was a quick, entertaining read, and the writing was engaging enough to make me want to check out Lee’s other titles, Country of Origin, and Yellow: stories, which is set in the same fictional town as Wrack and Ruin.

MPR photo/Euan Kerr

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