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Livability: Stories Paperback – December 23, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
" . . . Raymond is a prose maximalist. Although his characters have difficulty relating to each other, they relate to the reader with unbuttoned, occasionally garrulous, intimacy. To the reader alone, they entrust their memories, thoughts, feelings, landscape descriptions, even as they explain to the reader why these private riches can't be shared with the person closest to them in the story. At the end of 'Benny,' the narrator considers talking about his dead friend to his Vietnamese wife, Minh:
"'I heard her walking around in the kitchen and I knew she'd be happy enough if I came up and told her what was on my mind. I stayed put though. I had plenty of stories about Benny I could share, but I didn't really see the point. Why bother?... It was too late for Minh to understand what Benny had meant to me. It was too late for her to understand that we might as well have been brothers.'
"The cumulative effect of this, extended over nine stories, is to immerse the reader in a varied society of compulsive and fluent interior monologuists, who experience their lives with articulate intensity, but find it uphill work to communicate satisfactorily with their fellow loners."
A podcast of Raban is also available at nybooks.com. Based on his review, I'm ordering the book, and look forward to seeing the film ...
The nine tales are diverse, ranging from failed attempts at new romantic relationships, to the creative angst of artists, to two teenagers (a boy and a girl) literally trapped in a mall as well as being figuratively trapped in the mall-like tawdriness of American life. In one, a young boy struggles through a day in which he has been commanded to participate in the male ritual of physical combat in front of an audience (a ritual that is now formalized in the enormously profitable Ultimate Fighting franchise). In another, a well to do man that loves to prepare fantastic gourmet meals for friends invites his Mexican American day hire workers in for a suckled pig meal after the original invitees fail to show. Train Choir, made into a movie called Wendy and Lucy, traces the inexorable descent of a young woman into homelessness and loss of both human and canine companionship.
It's a fair bet that some readers of this collection will struggle with the relentless physical and/or emotional shabbiness of human life that Raymond's pen tends to gravitate toward. Those readers that persist, though, will find their thoughts provoked repeatedly by the author's observations, whether or not the reader agrees with them. Consider the revelation that teenager Kendra arrives at, as she provides oral sex to a semi-willing male teenager: "No one was pure. No one was good. Anyone would fold given the opportunity and the cover of night. It was an important thing to understand.Read more ›