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Idealism, Co-Opted in Jon Raymond's Rain Dragon

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THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS section of Jon Raymond's new novel Rain Dragon comes with a mild mea culpa: "This book took a bit longer than expected." Maybe Raymond was busy shepherding the scripts for the Kelly Reichardt-directed films Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff to completion, or perhaps his time was wrapped up in co-creating the well-received HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Maybe he just got lazy. Whatever the reason for its delay, Rain Dragon has landed at last, and it combines characteristics of Raymond's past work (closely observed interpersonal dynamics and a Northwest setting) with a newfound interest in creative compromise and corporate seduction.

Rain Dragon opens in a car on a rainy night somewhere in Oregon, as a young couple tries to make their way from their old lives to their new one. They're lost. It's foreshadowing. Damon and Amy have just abandoned LA for the Pacific Northwest, and they'll soon wash up at Rain Dragon, an organic farm known primarily for making great yogurt, where the couple hopes to find the purpose they've been lacking.

Or at least, Amy hopes to find purpose. Damon really just wants to make Amy happy—he's a fuzzy narrator whose perceptions can't quite be trusted, a well-intentioned guy who hasn't quite figured out how to be a real person yet. Aimless, harnessed to the whims of a flaky girlfriend prone to flit from one cause to the next (union organizing! Organic farming!), Damon's is the path of least resistance, overattentive to Amy's needs, blithely inattentive to his own. Amy is the rudder by which he allows his life to be steered, but when she steers him to the farm their relationship begins to fray, leaving Damon truly adrift.

At Rain Dragon, Amy discovers an interest in beekeeping, while Damon becomes involved first in marketing, and later with the corporate consulting work of Rain Dragon's charismatic founder, who has had some success sharing his organizational principles with other businesses.

In tracking the evolution (or corruption, depending on where you stand) of Rain Dragon's foray into consulting, Raymond delves with surprising gusto into corporate power dynamics, offering a lengthy look at the process of bidding for and then executing a staff training gig. (It's not as boring as it sounds.) Rain Dragon's team—and Damon himself—are hopeful that the methods they use to run their organic yogurt business will translate to meet the needs of a multinational corporation; they want to make some institutional change and make some money, in no particular order. (As Rain Dragon's founder summarizes it, "We could make a serious impact. And the consulting fees at this level are... significant.") It's all rationalized, of course, with notions of changing corporations from the inside. The propaganda Rain Dragon uses in their corporate training seminars reflects their fundamental ambivalence about the work they're now doing: "The energy we GIVE is equal to the energy we GET. There is no LOSS of ENERGY, only TRANSFERENCE. What is the PURPOSE of the corrugated paper division? The deeper PURPOSE? The DEEPEST PURPOSE?"

Despite the preoccupation with corporate training seminars, Raymond's prose offers plenty of surprising, precise moments. When Damon and Amy have a testy exchange in a garden, for example, he inserts a quiet pause: "A hummingbird zipped into the air between us, a tiny green brooch pinned to the world, then zipped away." It's moments like these that keep the reader with Raymond even when it's not quite clear where he's going—and offer reassurance that he'll get somewhere beyond a board room, in the end.

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