Attempts at Livability

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Usually I enjoy touting authors, especially local ones. However, Portland author Jon Raymond’s Livability: Stories is, sadly, not praiseworthy.

Livability is comprised of nine poorly researched and unrefined short stories. Although Raymond shows that he can use a thesaurus by selecting a slew of uncommon words, his descriptions are largely pointless and uninteresting. Instead of furthering the plot, he focuses on unimportant details like what the character is eating or mundane chores.

Raymond makes other amateurish writing mistakes. Actions speak louder than words, but readers are told what the characters are thinking and feeling rather than shown. As a result, the main characters are untrustworthy, one-dimensional and largely unbelievable.

Interactions between characters seem forced and wooden. Instead of coming alive off of the pages, the characters are puppets moving through the motions and saying things just to advance the plot.

Raymond must have also felt that the dialogue lacked authenticity so he peppers the word “fuck” and other various curses throughout the book. Instead of making the characters more believable, it brings more attention to the flaws.

Some of the characters should be easy for readers to feel sympathy for. The main character in “The Coast” lost his wife of 25 years when she was killed in a bicycle accident. In “Benny,” the main character’s childhood best friend has become a vagrant drug addict.

Yet the characters’ lack of mourning and empathy, or any emotion whatsoever, is rather chilling. A lot could have been said on these subjects that wasn’t.

Many of the plots are also unrealistic, impossible or improbable. The most apparently poorly researched story was “Young Bodies” in which a thieving Express employee and a friend became locked in the Lloyd Center after closing.

They have free reign of the mall, being able to exit and re-enter Express at will, which is highly unrealistic since they didn’t have a key. Also, they supposedly couldn’t exit the mall but were able to call a friend to bring them food from Burger King, because the theater’s doors were open. Right.

All of the stories take place in Oregon. In “Old Joy,” two Portland friends reconnect at the hot springs. “The Coast” takes place mostly at Newport. “The Suckling Pig” takes place in Lake Oswego. For Oregonians, it’s nice to see the diversity and familiarity of our home state immortalized on the page.

“Train Choir” takes place in a small Oregon town and was adapted into a movie called Wendy and Lucy. The movie is co-written by Kelly Reichardt and stars Michelle Williams. Kelly Reichardt also rewrote Raymond’s story Old Joy as a movie.

Raymond is also that author of the novel Half-Life. He is an editor for Plazm Magazine, a Portland publication that focuses on art. Bookforum, Artforum, Tin House and the Village Voice have also published his work.

If Raymond wants to be a serious writer, he would benefit from intensive writing workshops as well as paying closer attention to intimate conversations. In the meantime, you’ll find much better uses for your money than this book.

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