THE HALF-LIFE by Jonathan Raymond

THE HALF-LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A first novel explores two friendships in two centuries in the Pacific Northwest.

Raymond’s impressive debut lays out stories linked by shared ground near Portland, Oregon. Callow Cookie Figowitz, cook for a trapping party in the early 19th century, finds a naked stowaway on the fringe of his campsite and, despite the dwindling food supplies, feeds and hides the handsome Henry, an energetic young character who has already sailed the globe and is now hiding from the pack of Russians who murdered his Indian friends nearby. Their ensuing deepening friendship will lead the young men into a somewhat daffy economic venture, the extraction and sale of castoreum, a beaver musk highly prized in China. The castoreum sells, but Cookie is clapped in a Cantonese prison for decades. A hundred and fifty years later, teenagers Tina Plank and Trixie Volterra stalk the same acres, now a slightly bedraggled hippie refuge, in the 1980s. Trixie, exiled from LA after brushes with the law, is living with a family friend. Tina’s mother’s research project in Santa Cruz has fallen victim to Reaganomics, so she’s come to Oregon to regroup, bringing her smart but sullen daughter, who slowly bonds with the more flamboyant Trixie. The hippie ethic leaves the sloppily educated girls to their own devices, in this case the evolution of a goofy but imaginative screenplay about a Philadelphia physician who invents the frontal lobotomy. In the midst of the surprisingly successful beginnings of the film project, Neil Rust, who owns the ragtag farm, uncovers a pair of skeletons on ground that used to be a bog. Despite forensic evidence that the bones belong to a European and an Asian, the local Indians claim ownership and burial rights. The stalemate over the bones becomes a big news story that will eventually trample the film venture and lead to a tragedy as sad as that of Cookie’s end in that same bog.

Unglamorous and sad, but compelling.

Pub Date: May 14th, 2004
ISBN: 1-58234-448-5
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2004