Summary and book reviews of The Half-Life by Jonathan Raymond

The Half-Life

By Jonathan Raymond

The Half-Life
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  • Hardcover: May 2004,
    355 pages.
    Paperback: May 2005,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary



A dazzling debut novel about two friendships separated by generations but bound together by a dark mystery.

Cookie Figowitz is the cook for a party of volatile fur trappers trekking through the Oregon Territory in the 1820s, desperate to find their way to the newly created Hudson Bay Company before their meager supplies run out. As he forages for food one evening with the hopes of placating the increasingly restless men, Cookie stumbles over Henry Brown, a man on the run from violent Russians looking to settle an old score. Cookie takes Henry in, hiding him from the trappers, and the two begin an unlikely friendship that will take them from the virgin territory of the West all the way to China and back again.

Tina Plank is a teenager who has been unhappily transplanted to a Pacific Northwest commune in the 1980s. The only other girl her age within five miles is Trixie Volterra, whose troubled past only adds to her allure. Thrown together by circumstance, the two become fast friends, and are soon hard at work trying to make an elaborate movie on a shoestring budget. When, in the midst of filming, two skeletons are unearthed on the property, the lives of Cookie and Henry, Tina and Trixie converge in unexpected, startling ways.

The Half-Life, with extraordinary power and grace, reveals the pleasures and heartaches that bind us to one another.

Excerpt
The Half-Life

BETWEEN TWO RIDGES carved by a silver creek, in a forest of black fir trees, there was a place where the hills came to a shallow bowl and the earth went soft. The mountain heather and sword fern thinned at the edge of an open meadow, and a field of smooth cordgrass began, which led to the banks of a stagnant marsh.

In the summer, dragonflies flickered over the marsh's mirrored plane and frogs croaked from its damp shadows, while many-headed pussy willow bobbed in the wind. In the autumn, arrows of geese landed there, and during the spring mosquitoes rose to the surface at dusk, where hordes of bats would descend to pluck them from the air. When it was hot, the water lay still and reflected the clouds; when it rained, its skin came alive with dilating rings of energy.

At the bottom of the marsh's black water, hidden from view, lay two bodies, one with a crack in its skull and the other with a shattered chest.

Over time, the seasons cut through the ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Vanity Fair

In Jonathan Raymond's marvelous debut novel, The Half-Life, two teenage girls living on a commune in the Pacific Northwest discover a pair of skeletons, unearthing a mystery as rich as the history of the Oregon Territory itself.

Kirkus Reviews

Raymond's impressive debut lays out stories linked by shared ground near Portland, Oregon..... Unglamorous and sad, but compelling.

Publisher's Weekly

Friendship is the theme of this ambitious and assured debut novel...When tragedy strikes for both sets of friends, it feels as natural as the landscape, surely and deftly closing Raymond's circle of ambiguity, loss, loyalties and love.

Booklist

Raymond, in his first novel, seamlessly links the two narratives with elegant and often haunting prose. The characters are finely drawn, and Raymond poses them against a seductively beautiful landscape. The dramatic tension is well managed, and the unfolding stories are emotionally stirring. Raymond is clearly a writer of enormous promise.

Author Blurb Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Jonathan Raymond is a marvel; The Half-Life is both extraordinarily beautiful and impossible to put down. Wise to the crossed wires of history, to the urgencies of friendship and love, Raymond's novel is not to be missed.

Author Blurb Todd Haynes, director of Far from Heaven
A hugely engrossing excavation of history and friendship, The Half-Life is a debut novel of astounding perception and breadth. Unlocking two stories from the black-shadow mystery of the Pacific Northwest, Raymond deftly melds past and present, the exotic and colloquial, the panoramic and the internal, to illuminate the inherent frailty of being human and our universal longing to connect.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall and Lost Nation
With The Half-Life Jonathan Raymond has achieved a remarkable debut—a novel of great accomplishment and lyric dimensions. The two tales upon which the narrative is strung weave effortlessly together, sending the reader not on two but multiple journeys through the fabric of life, the nature of human endeavor and a profound and moving meditation on the frailties and strengths of the heart. A wonderful novel, most strongly recommended.

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