Published by Bloomsbury on April 24, 2012
As I was reading Rain Dragon, I often wondered what the story was about. It begins as an account of a couple trying to drift into a better life, then evolves into a description of a corporate counter-culture, then hints at a failed (or failing) relationship before turning into a disquisition on advertising and marketing strategies. Large chunks of the novel read like a primer for progressive business management -- enlightening, but not really the stuff of a successful novel. Finally, right at the end, Rain Dragon turns into a human drama, but by then it’s too late for the novel to establish an identity.
Damon and Amy decide to leave behind the trendy world of LA to “go north” in the hope of remaking their lives in the alt-trendy environs of Oregon. They want to work at the Rain Dragon farm, an organic operation that makes yogurt, grows flowers, produces its own honey, and allows its people to indulge the belief that they are contributing to “an alternative society based on principles of sustainability and justice, counteracting all the self-destructive drives that humanity had blindly adopted since the industrial era and the onset of the consumer society.” Rain Dragon’s CEO, Peter Hawk, also does some motivational training and consulting in business development and management. To become paid employees at Rain Dragon, Damon and Amy will have to serve a volunteer apprenticeship for an undefined time, until they can prove their value to the organization. Amy takes to the place naturally, fitting in well as an assistant beekeeper, but Damon can’t find a niche. The role he finally adopts brings him closer to Hawk but seems to drive him away from Amy.
The story is told in the first person from Damon’s perspective. Amy eventually falls into the background with the other secondary characters. That didn’t bother me because Amy is incredibly annoying -- the kind of nightmare who manufactures turmoil because she isn’t comfortable with a serene relationship -- although in that sense she is a realistic character. In fact, all the characters in Rain Dragon seemed real to me, although none were particularly appealing. I don’t need to like the characters in order to enjoy a novel, but I do need to be interested in them. Rain Dragon’s characters love to natter on about the nature of the world but their personalities are just too colorless to compel attention.
Jon Raymond’s writing is of such a high quality that I feel I should have liked Rain Dragon more than I did. The discussion that Peter Hawk has with the CEO of a paper company about different business models -- Hawk wants employees to self-actualize, the CEO just wants them to work a little harder -- is fascinating, but it doesn’t create the kind of dramatic tension that makes a novel memorable. When the drama finally arrives, the novel is nearly over, and so was my interest. The big moment toward which the story builds is utterly predictable. More troubling is that when it finally arrived, I just didn’t care. Rain Dragon has its moments, but not enough moments to earn a strong recommendation.
RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS