Thursday, April 26, 2012

  I find it hard to get excited about new literature these days. There are simply too many classics to get through and the current lit scene seems so tainted by a creepy industry driven by sensation and hype. Thus I almost make it a habit to ignore new novels. So understand what it means that when I read a few chapters of Sam Mcpheeters's debut novel Loom of Ruin a few months ago I was so moved by the uncompromising freshness I saw that without a second thought I broke down and immediately pre-ordered it. Mcpheeters obtained an early underground fame as the lead singer of Born Against, an early 90's hardcore band that is apparently a big deal but sounds more or less like Fugazi to me. In the intervening years he has published some 'zines, written for magazines and made art for The Locust. Off the bat I would pin the novel's primary influences as Pynchon and David Foster Wallace but McPheeters avoids being derivative and brings plenty to the table at least in terms of post-modern literature. New characters pop up in every chapter (and the chapters are short, maybe four pages on average with single page chapters not uncommon) but Mcpheeters shows great talent at fleshing the characters out into (mostly) three dimensionality then weaving them together in clever ways.
  The settings for the story are the streets, strip malls and corporate boardrooms of post-9/11 Los Angeles all of which portrayed with plenty of satirical hyperbole. A big part of the novel is spent examining the class divide between the immigrant communities and ultra rich of SoCal society. Trang Yang would rightfully be called the main character of the novel even though many characters get equal or even greater page time than him and he has only a hand of lines of dialogue. Yang is a Hmong immigrant with major frontal lobe loss and the owner of 9 chevron chains in Los Angeles. Yang's brain damage serves to play two beautifully intertwined roles in the novel: for ten years it has made him incapable of feeling any emotion other than rage and as due to a complex series of events involving two events of accidental LAPD brutality against him he has been made totally immune to arrest. Because of these factors any time Yang is so much as slighted he becomes absurdly violent with complete impunity. While not as gory as some of Palahniuk's best/worst Loom of Ruin is an intensely, and ubiquitously violent novel. This violence has a purpose though: when Yang say punches out a Philipinno family in their car for no apparent reason Mcpheeters seems to be asking us "Isn't this what you want to do, deep down?". He challenges us with the violence in his novel as all the fights stem from the frustration, the paranoia and the confusion of a post-modern lives.
  As mentioned before deep at the heart of this novel is the complex situation of immigration and the place of immigrants (legal and otherwise) in US society right now. The vast majority of the characters are adult immigrants to America of Hmong, Czech, Indonesian and Latinos origin. Characters of these races all have to interact in different styles of broken English and through the sieve of their individual cultures. If this book was by a significantly more popular (white) writer It would most likely start a shit storm but I feel McPheeters treads the line between stereotypy and underdogism carefully. McPheeters provides a variety of cross cultural interactions some of which are cringe inducing and others quite marvelous. The few "white" Americans are either corporate executives or in other positions of power and have their own crippling weaknesses aside from poverty. The book reads quick and contains a number (maybe too many) of contemporary corporate cultural references. Its a shame McPheeters felt the need to include these so ofter as they don't add too much to the novel and will only serve to date the book in the future. The "punch" of the writing also waxes and wanes at time as if McPheeters simply wanted to get though a scene to set up the plot for a future section where he then kicks back into gear. Fortunately McPheeters's writing is so fast that I never got bored during his brief lulls. Loom of Ruin is a solid opening for a new novelist and it will be exciting to see where he goes from here.

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