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The Half-Life: A Novel by Jonathan Raymond

The Half-Life: A Novel

by Jonathan Raymond

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Oregon wilderness
  mtnmamma | May 7, 2009 |
I slogged through this, forgetting how much better a book could be until I started the next one. There are two parallel stories, both set in the same landscape near Portland, Oregon, one during the frontier period in the mid-nineteenth century, the other on a commnity of aging hippies in the 1980s. The first, by far the more interesting story, relates the friendship between two men, one a cook for trapping expeditions. They cook up a scheme to get rich by selling vials of a glandular extract from beavers in China. There "Cookie" is arrested, put in prison, & abandoned by his friend, who returns to America. Eventually Cookie befriends the Chinese prisoner in the next cell, brings him to American when they are released, only to encounter tragedy. In the other story, two teenaged girls become friends, smoke a lot of pot, & plan to make a film, before, again, tragedy occurs. In both friendships, the person of stronger character is thoroughly dominated by the one who is apparently stronger but fundamentally weaker. In that, the story had potential, but it didn't work very well. (The stories are loosely & ineffectively linked by an awkward story about finding two long abandoned bodies (both male, holding hands) on the property the girls are living on & a dispute over whether the bodies should be turned over to a forensic anthropologist or to local Indians.) The writer got carried away with descriptions, crossing the fine line, for me, between providing the details necessary to bring the characters & their attempts to life, or indulging oneself as a writer in displaying one's powers of description to no useful end. It was also a profance book, not just in the sense of being filled with profanity & drug use, but in that it sees life itself as tragic & unredeemable rather than, as Shakespeare & other great writers do, seeing that SOME people have tragic flaws that prevent them from reaping life's rewards. ( )
  mbergman | Jan 28, 2007 |
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Cookie Figowitz is the cook for a party of volatile fur trappers trekking through the Oregon Territory in the 1820's, desperate to find their way to the newly created Hudson Bay Company before their meager supplies run out. As he forages for food one evening with the hope of placating the increasingly restless men, Cookie stumbles over Henry Brown, a man on the run from a group of Russians looking to settle an old score. Cookie takes Henry in, hiding him from the trappers, and the two begin an unlikely friendship that will take them from the virgin territory of the West all the way to China and back again.… (more)

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