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By Jonathan Wilhoit
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I feel bad that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading and reviewing The Son of Rage and Love. Thomas Raymond has been a saint for putting up with me for so long. I think he sent me the book in June of last year? Somewhere around there, at any rate. And then I read it in January some time. Now it’s June, and I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. Let it not be said that I don’t follow up on my promises. Timing though… that’s a little suspect. But The Son of Rage and Love is one of those books that needs to be reviewed.
And why is that? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The story is told from the perspective of twelve year-old Daniel, the youngest son of chart-topping pop artist Maya. He used to run, jump, play, build, and “imaginer” just about everything, but now he’s a prisoner of his mother’s fame, mindless videogames, and an Aderol fog. His only other sibling is his older sister, who is being groomed to follow in his mother’s footsteps. And then there’s his uncle Travis, a retired soldier and outdoorsman whom Daniel writes to on a regular basis and who acts as a foil (albeit a removed one) for Daniel’s materially-obsessed family. When his mother is off doing her whole celebrity thing, Daniel’s grandmother rules the roost with an iron fist. Matter of fact, “iron fist” is putting it mildly.
“The housekeepers, who are terrified of Grandmother, follow her commands like starched grey robots. They make sure things move according her precise routine, or else. If they see anyone trying to upset the order of things, it’s as if Grandmother saw it herself. From their eyes to her microprocessor. It doesn’t matter that the housekeepers speak almost no English. They communicate on some secret wireless frequency. Puppets without strings.
In an attempt to rehab her vapid public image (though, a well-deserved image), Daniel’s mother jets off to Haiti to perform some “charity work” and, in the process, jumps on the “celebrity-searching-for-meaning-and-public-addulation (but really more public adulation than anything)” band wagon and adopts a Haitian orphan. His name is Jean-Maurice, a thirteen-year old boy, and he is like nothing Daniel has ever experienced.
“He lives in the present tense. He is not restless; he’s just alive. Not sedated. And he’s shifty. He is relaxed, in a shifty way. Relaxed, in constant motion.”
And that unbridled, unsedated alien turns the family’s world upside down.
Raymond brilliantly crafts the perspective of a mentally troubled adolescent, a boy at once disturbingly deluded and startlingly insightful. It’s a combination not all that uncommon in reality, for isn’t that the way of brilliance? There’s almost always some price to be paid. Where a mind excels in one area, it often atrophies in another. But instead of me dithering on, let’s start quoting the good shit and you’ll see what I mean.
“That’s another way they control you. Electronic hypnosis, really. They know you’ll do anything for a little more PlayStation or Xbox time, or another hour in front of the TV. You’ll pick up your room, you’ll finish that homework, and you’ll keep quiet about it. They know you will, but I doubt they know exactly why. Grandmother and her minions do not know that the TV and games are my escape form the pink pill fog. My only escape from the smothering dullness of the life they expect me to live. They don’t know it, but I see this artificial escape as my real life. Endless electronic mazes, power-ups, and fantasy adventures. Shapeshifting warriors, monsters, and parallel worlds. That’s where I am in control. That’s my life. The escape sustains my life. And like anyone, I protect my life.”
And then there’s his description of his grandmother.
“Grandmother works through a furniture catalog with fury, the paper tearing at the staples with each page she turns. Her hands have shape-shifted into iron claws powered by hydraulic hoses. Her face is dented like an old trash can. I can tell she’s not really looking at any of the pages, but the shopping reflex is automatic. Like my mom, Grandmother shops like a shark swims. You can’t stop or you might die. It doesn’t matter if she needs something or not. The purchase itself is nourishment. It’s like a race that no one ever wins. She competes with the neighbors and the people in the magazines and the remoras and most especially with her old friends who are still stuck in
. Anything they have, she needs a better one, and she makes sure they hear about it.” Iowa
See what I mean about the writing being damn good? I only have two complaints. And really, at this point I’m pretty sure I’m biologically incapable of writing a review without at least one gripe. The first is that the “twist” near the end was a bit telegraphed. Or maybe I’m just that smart? I doubt that, but it’s kind of nice to think so. At any rate, I saw the gag coming about fifty pages into the book, which made the eventual bang more of a whimper… but that usually happens to me, so it’s not that big of a deal.
The second complaint is harder to explain, but I’m going to try anyway. Perhaps you’ve picked up on it from all the quoted passages above, but the tone of most of the novel is so freaking nihilistic. It’s the story of a boy trapped within the prison of wealth and fame, a wild heart imprisoned by over-civilization. And part of the reason it seems so nihilistic is that all of the characters (except for Daniel) are so entrenched in their every day ruts that they don’t show any desire to change their condition. For the most part, they are static characters. And so the happy ending that eventually comes about (if you consider that a spoiler, sorrynotsorry) seems a bit incongruous because it requires the Author-God to waylay a couple intractable characters a thunderbolt of epiphany all at the same time. Or mostly at the same time. Not necessarily bad, but just… incongruous. Does that make any damn sense at all?
Regardless of my literary ramblings, Raymond has put up a damn fine novel. The Son of Rage and Love is poignant, timely, and written by a man who understands how handle a good theme—with subtle, loving care most of the time and a sledgehammer at just the right moment. I give it four out of five stars.
About the Reviewer: He makes a living in the world of corporate IT, but he gets his jollies through the nirvana of armchair literary criticism. Blame it on a liberal arts education and liberal quantities of whiskey. It's a dangerous combination, one that has resulted in a blog called I Read a Book Once, where Jonathan can express his cantankerous inner literary critic to the fullest extent. When not reading, writing, or getting his geek on (i.e. working), he mostly hunkers down in the bunker with his redhot smokin' wife and tries to survive the hurricane that is his half-crazed toddler.
The Giveaway: Thomas Raymond has been gracious enough to offer up a paperback copy of The Son of Rage and Love to one lucky winner. The physical copy is only available for
residents, but if you live in a foreign country, you can still win an
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