Livability

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Over the past couple of years, Jon Raymond has forged a vital relationship with director Kelly Reichardt, coadapting two of his own stories, “Old Joy” and “Train Choir” (retitled Wendy and Lucy), with her. It’s no coincidence that these pieces are by far the strongest in Raymond’s new collection, Livability. They are sustained by a kind of unease that, in the case of “Train Choir,” subtly morphs into genuine bleakness; lacking that undergirding, the seven other entries drift into aimlessness—or, even more regrettably, pointlessness.

The overall wishy-washy feel is set by the book’s title, which could also have been Readability: Raymond’s slices of Northwest life go down easily, but then what? Craft, while nothing to sniff at, just isn’t enough, and in story after story, nagging questions lurk in the back of the reader’s mind: Why should I care? Why should I bother turning the page? This isn’t a plea for plot-driven action; the observation of microevents and sentiments can be wonderful, but this also requires the author’s sense of imagination and daring to be as oversize as the events he tackles are intimate.

Reichardt and Raymond feel particularly well matched: The aforementioned two stories deliver a real sense of loss while leaving matters largely unsaid, and Reichhardt has incisive formal instincts, filling in Raymond’s narrative blanks in a manner that’s neither intrusive nor overly illustrative. Perhaps he needs to take this as a sign that he should redirect his focus exclusively on screenwriting—American cinema needs all the help it can get right now, whereas bookstores are overflowing with innocuous pseudo-insights such as the ones in most of Livability.

Buy Livability now on BN.com

By Jon Raymond. Bloomsbury, $15 paperback.