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Wrack and Ruin: A Novel Hardcover – April 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The trick to reading Don Lee's wonderfully silly second novel (after Country of Origin and a story collection, Yellow) is to take nothing seriously, even when you should. The book concerns the eccentric sculptor-turned-brussels sprout farmer, Lyndon Song, and his estranged brother, Woody, an uptight Hollywood producer. Lyndon's refusal to sell his farmland to a golf course developer results in an unwelcome visit from his brother, who has been secretly hired by the developer. The author has corralled an array of misfits and minor characters-Lyndon's friend Juju, a philosophizing surfer with a prosthetic limb, and Yi Ling Ling, a has-been kung fu film star-to season the backdrop of the brothers' misadventures and muster up some drama and didactic spiritualism. The novel's best sections are lighthearted in their delivery, but hint at deeper substance and self-reflection. At times the author starts pulling too adamantly at readers' heartstrings, but before long he's back to slathering on the sarcasm. This novel thrives on unlikely unions, unseemly humor and happy endings while maintaining a constant examination of family and identity, in keeping with the themes of the author's previous book. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

The author of Yellow (2001) and Country of Origin (2004) delivers another warmly humorous take on identity in this entertaining novel featuring Lyndon Song, a sculptor turned brussels-sprouts farmer. In his youth, Lyndon made it to the top of the cutthroat art world in New York City but soon tired of the egos, politicking, and harsh criticism. He gave it all up to settle in Rosarita Bay, California, a sleepy, foggy town ideal for organic farming. But his low-key lifestyle is threatened when a developer decides to build a golf course and needs Lyndon’s land to complete his deal. Lyndon’s long-estranged brother, Woody, a disgraced financier turned movie producer, makes a secret deal with the developer to work on Lyndon, but their wild Labor Day weekend visit changes both of them in unforeseen ways. An eccentric cast of secondary characters, including a fading Hong Kong kung-fu star and a perpetually stoned surfer, adds to the merriment in a highly appealing novel that swerves ever so gracefully from rollicking humor to poignant moments of reflection. --Joanne Wilkinson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062328
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,008,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Don Lee is the author most recently of the novel The Collective. He is also the author of the novel Wrack and Ruin, which was a finalist for the Thurber Prize; the novel Country of Origin, which won an American Book Award, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and a Mixed Media Watch Image Award for Outstanding Fiction; and the story collection Yellow, which won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Members Choice Award from the Asian American Writers' Workshop.

He has received an O. Henry Award and a Pushcart Prize, and his stories have been published in The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, GQ, The North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Manoa, American Short Fiction, Glimmer Train, Charlie Chan Is Dead 2, Screaming Monkeys, Narrative, and elsewhere. He has received fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the St. Botolph Club Foundation, and residencies from Yaddo and the Lannan Foundation. In 2007, he received the inaugural Fred R. Brown Literary Award for emerging novelists from the University of Pittsburgh's creative writing program.

From 1988 to 2007, he was the principal editor of the literary journal Ploughshares. He is currently a professor in Temple University's M.F.A. program in creative writing in Philadelphia. He is a third-generation Korean American.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Linda J. Sexauer on April 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
On the surface, "Wrack and Ruin" by Don Lee is a readable, funny, endearing story of one holiday weekend in coastal northern California. There is a confluence of personalities and relationships that gravitate, collide, then disperse. It is a snapshot of characters, illuminated with vivid back stories. There is an element of slapstick: practical jokes, pitfalls, ridiculous injuries. It would be easy to read this book in a day or so, enjoying every well placed word, then put it down and forget about it. But underlying the action and forward movement of the story are a stew of ideas, ideologies, and identities.

I love Brussels sprouts. I was totally charmed by the prominence of Brussels sprouts in Lee's story. I love stories that pull random imagery to carry a storyline. I learned a great deal from "Wrack and Ruin": about small organic farms, about the art world, about film production, about chocolate, about bartending, about saving endangered wetlands.

It has been several weeks since I finished reading "Wrack and Ruin". I almost can't imagine a harder book to review. If a novel could be explained as an exploration of identity - racial, national, sexual, etc. - this book seems almost to be an exploration of nonidentity: take away race, nation, gender, and what is left? What makes us do what we do and feel what we feel? We love, hate, create and destroy, and all those things spring out of places far deeper than skin color, language and genitalia.

What is lovely to me about "Wrack and Ruin" is how subtly Lee weaves profundity into his story. There are amazingly crafted sentences and paragraphs, that not only carry the story along, but also suggest that Lee is doing something more.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Terry Battles on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Hopefully Woodrow Wilson Song has thought of producing a movie about the outrageous Labor Day weekend (of which he is a part) chronicled in Wrack and Ruin, the new novel by Don Lee. Such a movie just might give him the success he desperately seeks in his "second life" career.

Brothers Lyndon and Woodrow Song provide the principal stories with which others intersect in this story of second chapter lives. Each brother has started anew. Both are haunted by personal issues that have forced each to abandon his initial career path, with an additional layer of complexity added by their long estrangement, an estrangement precipitated by Woody's fall from grace.

The story takes place over a Labor Day weekend in the small California coastal town of Rosarita Bay. This is the community that has become Lyndon's home after abandoning his brief meteoric art career to become, of all things, a grower of organic Brussels sprouts. Despite the brief time period covered, we get to know the brothers well. In addition, we meet an array of other quirky and eccentric characters, each providing enough of a glimpse into his or her history to provide depth - and reasons to care.

In one sense, the story is quite over the top, with calamity after calamity occurring at a rate that is hard to believe. Yet, despite the incredible string of events, one eventually comes to realize that the coming together of all of these people, of all of these personal histories, could happen in no other fashion. This Labor Day weekend has become the perfect storm.

There are many moments of hilarity which serve to highlight absurdities (personal and corporate) that we see around us each and every day.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on April 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In his wonderful new novel, Don Lee has accomplished one of the most difficult forms of art: the farce. And he has done so with tremendous skill, pulling you into a vibrant and lush world where you can taste, smell, and feel everything around you. In short, it was the ultimate sensory experience. It was certainly hard to leave.

Perhaps fans of Shakespeare's comedies would enjoy this for it's a novel where you have to be willing to just let go, immerse yourself in a world of exaggeration and improbability. It is utterly hilarious and wacky--it's been a while since I laughed so hard reading a book--but what moved me, in the end, was its great tenderness, the way we stumble toward, and discover, love.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very funny novel. At times the humor is subtle; at other times it borders on farce or slapstick. Lee touches on themes of individuality, racial identity, the nature and meaning of art, and whether the value of art (sculpture in the case of one character, film in the case of his brother) is determined by the artist or the audience.

The main character is a recluse, a once successful artist who walked away from the art scene and just wants to be left alone to deal with his failing farm, his hapless relationships with women, and an irksome scheming brother who won't leave him alone. A number of other quirky characters come together in a melting pot of a plot that can only be described as whacky, while nonetheless making some salient points about love, ambition, and the importance of following dreams.

I'm surprised the novel wasn't more successful; it really deserves a wider audience. I would give it 4 1/2 stars if I could.
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