"An impressive story of corruption, religion and friendship, and the lengths people go to for love."– Kirkus Reviews
California becomes the fertile soil that nourishes this free verse.
There’s something about the Golden State that makes the stanzas flow, and a bevy of poets—natives and transplants alike—has left its mark on California. From Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the north to Robinson Jeffers in the central valley to Charles Bukowski in the City of Angels, California has a poetic heritage that makes other states drool. In five previous volumes, Richardson (The Book of Good Dreams, 2014, etc.) has been vying to add to that legacy, and he continues his efforts in this collection. Like Bob Dylan, Richardson was born in Duluth, Minnesota, but he grew up in Camarillo, California, and now lives in LA, and his writing is undeniably colored by the influence of his adopted home state. “Haight-Ashbury” is named after the famous (and now famously gentrifying) San Francisco neighborhood where the Summer of Love was born five decades ago: “A house for sale on Central Avenue, / cold as a clawfoot bathtub, complete with / hovering flies and a portrait of a chimpanzee / drawn in crayon by a sixty-year-old.” Here, Richardson captures the Haight not as it was—an idealistic hippie haven—but as it is now, a “menacing…tweaker,” “his head swinging with the weight of a wrecking ball.” The “house for sale” and the “wrecking ball” are potent images for evoking a neighborhood dramatically in flux. Elsewhere, he leaves the city for the mountains: “I’d like to be in Bishop, California / In the eastern Sierra Nevada / In the aisles of a hardware store / In the season of blue jeans and flannel / Buying tools for home improvement.” The careful repetition of the prepositional phrase “in the” is unostentatious but effective—which is also an apt description of Richardson’s style more broadly considered. A half-dozen books into a literary career, the author doesn’t have to prove that he’s a serious poet. Rather, he is polishing his voice to a smooth, rich luster perfectly suited for reflecting a Pacific sunset.
Fine, mature verse from an accomplished West Coast poet.
A fascinating tale of a young man’s downward spiral into depression.
Richardson (The Corruption of Zachary R., 2009) follows his debut novel with this fast-paced, harrowing sequel that begins with H. James “Jimmy” Branhoover’s suicide, then backtracks through his unique childhood. Jimmy, born to the “well-to-do and good-for-nothing” banker H. Charles Branhoover and Chloe, a former prostitute, is the heir apparent of his father’s fortunes. His childhood is simple enough: He has a best friend, the beautiful Kay Sunday—whose parents are “spiritual consultants and amateur astronomers, selling God and telescopes”—and he soon befriends Clayton Mulder, who winds up with the nickname Innocent #2. The three form a bond of sorts, until Jimmy begins to feel threatened by Innocent #2, whom he suspects is capturing all of Kay’s attention. As Jimmy struggles with his shifting dynamic with Kay, his life takes a tragic turn when his father suddenly passes, leaving Jimmy an inheritance of millions of dollars. He turns to religion to help sort through his emotions and soon finds himself embroiled in a bitter battle between the corrupt Rev. Vander Stevenson (aka Patchouli Goldwatch) and Kay’s family. Goldwatch goes so far as to paint swastikas on the side of the church, then blames the Sundays. Eager to correct the wrongs, and hopeful that he can win back Kay, Jimmy endeavors to buy the church from Goldwatch and hand it over to the Sundays. Just as it seems that Jimmy’s life is falling into place, a late-night phone call includes a surprising proposition that threatens to send Jimmy to new depths of unhappiness. Equal parts comedic and tragic, this coming-of-age tale explores compelling themes such as faith, wealth, deception and betrayal. The story’s opening, detailing Jimmy’s tragic end, leads to a series of compelling scenes as the reader pieces together the events that triggered his suicide. Filled with memorable characters and thoughtful moments, this well-paced story provides lessons as well as entertainment.
An impressive story of corruption, religion and friendship, and the lengths people go to for love.
A jumpy, bare-bones plunge into the vortex of one man’s madness.
In staccato chapters dealt out like a deck of cards–snappy, latent, repeating–Richardson tracks Zachary R.’s descent into psychosis. It is not a combustible event, but rather quotidian, and its very everydayness makes it especially creepy and troubling. Richardson explores the faults and folds of Zachary’s life–his father’s obsession with chess, his mother’s comic-but-for-its-ramifications death, the concussive darkness of his marriage, his daughter’s colorful waywardness–in writing that has the elemental quality and dreamy, out-of-body remoteness of black-and-white photography. The author frequently makes forays into an experimental tone, as if tasting the words–â€œShe returned home like scurvy over anemia” or â€œthe private nature of file clerks.” Though Richardson keeps a tight rein on his metaphors, an occasional hackneyed â€œreverent as stained glass at dawn” also crops up. Repetition is a powerful leitmotif in the author’s arsenal–â€œHe considered the definition of insanity: â€˜to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.’ ”–and he deploys it with a Hitchcockian fatality. He introduces Zachary’s madness and then circles back to introduce it again. Diverting customers appear and reappear to usher Zachary toward his rewards, talismanic elements hit the reader like doomful claps of thunder–brass knuckles, chess pieces, rivers and women. Richardson tenders characters that, due to the story’s brevity and swiftness, are quickly sympathetic and pack a compressed punch. It is not much of a stretch to identify with Zachary’s helpless gibbering, and his masochistic wife (â€œshe received her beating, which made her whirl and pop”) is plain unnerving. Episodes of bleak humor lighten Zachary’s passage–a snail crawling the grounds of the asylum speaks to the patients, â€œbut would do so selectively so as not to worsen their already fragile psyches.” Still, this Mobius strip of misery will inevitably take a detour to Zachary’s oblivion.
An artful, beguiling voyage to a place no one wants to go.