A search for meaning in the Pacific Northwest

  • Livability

 

Livability
Jon Raymond
272 pages,softcover: $15.
Bloomsbury USA, 2009.

If you've ever imagined that your search for meaning might finally end at an organic farm in Oregon, or on a summer gig at an Alaskan fishery, or with the sale of your first screenplay, you'll recognize the characters in Jon Raymond's short-story collection Livability.

Livability is a menagerie of unfulfilled searchers -- a widower returning to the coastal resort where he used to vacation with his wife, a young loner driving from Indiana to Alaska with just $632 and her dog. Raymond, a Portland native, sets his stories in the pallid towns and "deep, impenetrable black green" forest of the Pacific Northwest.

Not much happens there. Characters seek meaning, and unexpected human connections lead to surprising inner transformations. An affair with another solo vacationer invigorates the widower, for instance, but it also reveals that nothing will help him transcend his wife's absence. When malaise overcomes a character as he tries to explain his unfulfilling job to his 7-year-old daughter, Raymond notes that the man "had arrived at the perimeter of his selfhood, and sadly it was not as far out as he had hoped."

Raymond is an editor at a "design and culture" magazine, and some of his stories hew too closely to the world of his "creative class" demographic. The first story opens with a ringing meditation bell; straw-bale houses, community gardens and recreational pottery soon follow. In "Words and Things," an artist falls for an intellectual magazine writer, only to realize that -- surprise -- she finds meaning in things and he finds meaning in words.

But other stories are more richly imagined. In "The Suckling Pig," a wacky plot brings together Mexican day laborers and rich white idlers at a wealthy Chinese-American's "divorce party." A wickedly fun drunken class-clash ensues.

Two of the stories, "Old Joy" and "Train Choir," were adapted by film director Kelly Reichardt, with "Train Choir" becoming the much-praised movie Wendy and Lucy. The films, co-written by Raymond, have the same quietly devastating effect as his stories. Amid the lulling pace and hazy imagery, lightly sketched characters grow. Readers slowly begin to recognize people from their own lives. The affectionate yet slightly dislocated feeling is best expressed by the successful 30-something in "Old Joy" who hikes to a hot spring with a flaky old friend. They fail to reconnect, yet he finds comfort in the revelation sparked by that failure.

"What is sorrow," he asks, "but old, worn-out joy?"

High Country News Classifieds
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....