Thursday, June 15, 2017

It's time for our event with Don Lee: a little more about "Lonesome Lies Before Us."

I've been reading Don Lee for over 15 years, since a copy of the short story collection Yellow was put in my hands. I skipped Country of Origin, as I wasn't reading thrillers at the time, but I came back to him with Wrack and Ruin, which turned out to be my favorite book of the year it came out.

Then I read The Collective. Once again, a very different book, but with his strong voice coming through. I called it Lee's college novel. It's a rite of passage for many writers. Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot comes to mind. 

And now it's Lonesome Lies Before Us. And while I think that he never writes the same book twice, in a way, Lonesome is a companion book to Wrack. For one thing, they both take place in Rosarita Bay, that fictional representation of Half Moon Bay. And for another, they are both about artists, Lyndon Song is a sculptor, while Yadin Park is a musician.

And what a musician he is - stage fright, a little stocky, Ménière's disease, and oh yes, probably Korean. I say probably because there are only hints of his cultural identity: a meal, and well, that last name. 

I love so many things about Lonesome Lies Before Us, most notably the characters. There is so much yearning in the novel, and I don't really mean that in a leering, cheating sort of way, though at the heart of the story is a bit of a love triangle between Yadin, Jeanne (his girlfriend, a hotel cleaner whose dad owns the carpet installing business Yadin works for) and Mallory (who sold out when Yadin ran out on her, and now might be his ticket back to recording) . No, it's a yearning that captures what is true from what might have been, and the intense and sometimes improbably ability to change paths.

But I think my love for his writing has gone beyond explanation. If you ask a trained critic why they love a sculpture, you'll get a very detailed answer, maybe an essay or event a book. But if you ask me, I would probably say, I just love it. It just does everything right for me. And if you want that sort of feeling, or the chance at that sort of feeling, you should read it too. 

The Mark Athitakis Washington Post review wrote: "If Lonesome Lies Before Us isn’t the best American novel of the year, it’s one of the most American American novels. It’s intensely concerned with the civic institutions that shape everyday lives, and with who’s affected when they disappear. That’s too much weight for the average country song to bear, but Lee’s novel carries it just fine." (Will Johnson is at right)

From Jim Higgins in the Journal Sentinel: "Lee's novel shares some of the character of alt-country music, low-key and trafficking in folks who will never be gold-card members. Deftly, he finds gentle comedy in the town's tiny Unitarian Universalist congregation while also respecting the impulses that brought them together. (And thank you, sir, for informing me about the prison-cassette industry.)"

Yes, it really was the best special-guest-star showing of the Unitarian Society since Michelle Hunevan's Jamesland. I should have remembered to use that.

So now it's the day of our event and Lee will be here with musican Will Johnson. I worked so hard to make this happen and now I'm panicking that I didn't work hard enough.

Oh, and while there's really no connection with Wrack and Ruin that I found, there is a little wink.  I hoped to spot at least one character in the new book from the old, but it turned out the character in question is not a person. There's a golf resort now in Rosarita Bay, and that's got to be Lyndon Song's old Brussels sprout farm, right? Guess what? It's not doing too well. Ha!

Oh, this blog post is a blithering mess, but I have to get ready for the event. Hope some of you come, and that even more of you are there in spirit. 

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