“What is sorrow but old, worn out joy?” –Jon Raymond
I usually prefer to read a story before watching a film adaptation, but somehow the short stories of Jon Raymond slipped past my radar, until I recently discovered that the movies Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy were both based on his work.
The collection Livability is one of the best short story collections I’ve read in some time, and so I’m eager to recommend the book to fellow readers and hear what they think—I know the stories are quite good, but I also feel like I may be somewhat biased. As is the case with both films mentioned above, all of these stories take place in my home state of Oregon, and Raymond has perfectly nailed the feeling and mood of contemporary life in the Pacific Northwest—gloomy, isolating, in transition.
Portland, Oregon is consistently listed (along with Seattle) as one of America’s “Ten Most Livable Cities,” but as this collection makes abundantly clear, the Northwest is not merely a region of clean air, green trees, and impressive mountainscapes. It is also an area haunted by the fall of the timber industry, mass clearcuts, and rising unemployment figures. Portland has certainly remade itself in the past twenty years, but it still remains a largely economically depressed area, albeit a popular one for college-grads and young upper-middle class professionals looking to start families and settle down. Raymond’s stories are not interested in the young, moneyed, and educated though. They instead tend to focus on individuals living in the cracks—loners and longtime locals displaced by economic hardship, widowhood, or divorce. It is a somewhat gloomy, hazy reality, but not completely depressing due to the sympathy and tenderness with which the author treats his rough-edged characters, who carry on despite each setback.
If you find yourself enjoying this collection as much as I did, I recommend checking out both of the film adaptations by Kelly Reichardt, available in our collection:
Friends mostly out of habit, Kurt and Mark reunite and decide to take a meandering camping trip to a hot springs hidden in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Both men have taken significantly different paths in life (one has settled down, the other is still a rudderless traveler), and they awkwardly struggle to connect and understand each other. Based on the Raymond story of the same name, and starring Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy).
Wendy and Lucy
A subtly devastating portrait of life during recession times, where the smallest choices or turns of fortune can lead to dreadful consequences. Wendy is down on her luck, but hoping to turn things around with a summer job in Alaska. On her way there with her dog Lucy, she finds herself stranded with no money in a small Oregon town. After getting caught stealing dog food at a grocery store, her luck abruptly heads downhill. And then she loses track of Lucy. [Side note: the dog will be okay, but I won’t give anything else away.] Based on the Raymond story “Train Choir.”
Word on the street is that Raymond and Reichardt have just collaborated on a new film out in theaters called Meek’s Cutoff, about ill-fated pilgrims on the Oregon Trail. I can’t wait for this to come to Pittsburgh in July!