Post-traumatic stress disorder, the Holocaust, and civic corruption are just where the troubles begin for one LA family.
Anne, the much-put-upon heroine of Raymond’s third novel (Rain Dragon, 2012, etc.), is concerned to distraction with three men in her family. Her elderly father, Sam, a Holocaust survivor, resists her efforts to move him into a nursing home; her son, Aaron, is a high school senior with no clear direction; and her brother, Ben, is a former sniper who’s returned from the Middle East with obvious psychic damage. Anne doesn’t exactly have it together herself: a senior staffer at LA County’s Department of Sustainability, she’s getting wooed by an entrepreneur eager to rope her into an unethical scheme to privatize the region’s wastewater. Raymond gestures toward framing this story as a widescreen study of morality and evil: Aaron goes on a road trip with Sam where a theft unlocks some of grandpa’s closely held Auschwitz memories, and Ben’s sanity degrades to the point where he begins plotting assassinations of power brokers. But the novel never quite finds that serious tone, some of which is due to the sprawl of the plot, some of which is due to Raymond’s knack for breezier, ground-level storytelling—he’s at his best when he’s skewering LA’s bureaucracy (“a centerless hive of back channels and side alleys, pitted with private dungeons”) or how Aaron is comically waylaid by a moment of adolescent lust. The novel’s big-picture material tends to feature more pretentious, shapeless prose, as when Ben experiences “eyeless, voiceless faces, wavering in the air, shooting razors of pain”—lines that don’t quite sell the madness that allegedly consumes the ex-sniper. Each character study is thoughtfully constructed, but the novel is less than the sum of its parts.
An ambitious domestic drama that nails the domestic parts but doesn’t always sell its drama.