First novel sure to make a splashAll friendships are not created equal. Or so Jonathan Raymond illustrates in his thoughtful debut novel, The Half-Life, which takes place in picturesque Oregon and tells two intertwined tales set 150 years apart.
Tender, intelligent and mostly afraid, Cookie is an anomaly among the feral frontiersmen who make up an 1820s trapping party lost in Oregon Territory. A violent tragedy results in his clandestine meeting with Henry, a young adventurer who secretly steers Cookie's party to safety. The two part, but meet again later and become boon companions.
Fast-forward to the dawn of the Reagan era, where Tina and her newly unemployed mom arrive at an Oregon hippie commune. Tina, a high school student too young to drive but old enough to really want to, falls in with the enigmatic Trixie Volterra, a fellow teen who in her scant years has somehow earned a shadowy past.
Tying this quartet together is a pair of anonymous skeletons, submerged for scores of years at the bottom of a muddy marsh before their discovery by Neil, the inconsequential owner of the land the commune is built upon. It is upon this palimpsest of mysterious bleached bone and history that Raymond skillfully weaves the parallel stories of Cookie and Henry and Tina and Trixie.
Cookie and Tina, the passive partners in their respective relationships, serve as narrators as they follow their alpha comrades into dangerous get-rich-quick schemes and pipe dreams that result in serious consequences. While Cookie accepts being little more than Henry's sidekick, Tina quickly grows to resent giving center stage to the more flamboyant Trixie. Both relationships build to shocking and horrific climaxes that reveal both the brittle frailty and the unquenchable strength of humanity.
Raymond, who has also worked as a screen writer, is at his best in his detailed physical descriptions of the Oregon timberland, combining the clinical eye of a naturalist with a poetic lyricism. He is nearly as precise when exploring the mind of a girl on the brink of womanhood, bringing to life her dreams, joys, pains and real and imagined slights. Although slow-moving at times, Raymond's work is an engrossing and evocative cerebral feast, and marks a promising literary beginning.