MAYBE YOU SAW IT TOO: three old sequoias on SE 44th and Hawthorne, shamefully naked, shorn of their branches in advance of their felling. At the tip of one, some hero had affixed a sign. It read, "RUN FOREST RUN." The sign was gone next time I walked by; so were the trees.
This dismal scene would be right at home in The Folly of Loving Life, Monica Drake's new collection of interconnected stories. Drake, a Portland author and Mercury alum, mines the collective anxieties of a burgeoning city where development stalks the streets like a nocturnal predator.
At the book's outset, the primary protagonists, sisters Vanessa and Lu, are taken by their parents from the city to an overgrown farmstead outside Sandy. Mom has dreams of an Eden-like utopia for her daughters here, "where the world was unpaved and luxurious, half-wild," but her slipping sanity will leave the girls mostly parentless. And the promise is broken from the start: Their "Arboretum" is bordered by car lots and pet stores, "surrounded by surveyor's stakes with fluttering ribbons bright and ugly as crime scene tape."
Drake is less concerned with the ecological effects of lost trees than with the psychological and emotional damage wrought by rapidly changing environments. Vanessa, reconnecting in Portland with a high school friend, thinks they both are cursed with "the helpless sense that everything you ever loved could be destroyed, without debate."
The book's interconnected story structure is a brilliant choice: Drake plays with genre and POV in a way that adds new dimensions to her already-vivid characters. But best of all is Drake's use of time. The protagonists narrate their stories as if looking backward, retrospective and nostalgic, trying to isolate a moment. How did we get here, and where did things go wrong? The stories are bound together by "Neighborhood Notes," playful and poetic odes to Portland-as-it-is. In one of them, Vanessa proclaims, "The whole moment passes fast as a mileage marker clipping by on the side of the highway. It's in the future, then happening, then over and gone." But after the moment, we tell stories.
The Folly of Loving Life
by Monica Drake
(Future Tense Books)
Reading with Rios de la Luz at Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway, Wed March 23, 7 pm