Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jon Raymond

"Tonight’s featured author is Jon Raymond. Jon is the author of a novel, The Half Life, and a short story collection, Livability.

”Words and Things,” one of the stories collected in Livability, is an examination of a budding romance between Jen, a sculptor, and David, a writer. Here is what Jen has to say about the difference between “words” and “things”:

“Writing, Jen thought, seemed like a very sad pursuit. Like painting, but worse. At least paintings had color. Writing, though, was just black marks on paper, standing in for people and objects and events that could never be seen or felt. It seemed pathetic in a way. Nouns were the saddest words of all, trying so hard to summon real objects to life.” (p. 141)

I was struck by that passage because it seems to me that this is exactly what a writer does. He uses the tools of his craft, those black marks on paper, to attempt to zoom in on people and objects and events so that we feel we experience them firsthand. Jon Raymond does this well.

I’m not a giant fan of Wilbur Smith, who wrote a number of historical novels set in Egypt. But one of his books in particular, The Sunbird, has remained in my brain for several decades. The book is really two separate narratives, the first about an archeological dig, and the second, set centuries earlier, the real-time story of the residents who had lived their lives on what is now the dig. Smith uses the two stories to pose these questions: Can the land retain memory, specifically emotional memory, of what has gone before? Can the land’s memory of times long past influence current events?

I wasn’t too far into my reading of The Half Life when it seemed to me that Raymond was suggesting something of the same sort. Rather than telling the two stories separately, as Smith did, he entwines the narratives of two pairs of unlikely friends taking place more than a century and a half apart. As the stories of Henry and Cookie and Tina and Trixie unfold, the reader journeys into unfamiliar territory. But it is the same territory in each narrative. As the modern story reaches resolution, it’s almost impossible not to ask: Would this tale have had the same ending in a different location? It’s a fun question to think about, and the book is a terrific read.

So without further ado, please welcome Jon Raymond." (Intro by Marianne Klekacz)

Video Copyright Carla Perry