Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Loom of Ruin: A Review

Sam McPheeter's Loom of Ruin is an often comedic, apocalypse-in-progress novel set within the environs of current day Los Angelos.  Although mostly within the confines of the City of Los Angelos, the novel has a cast of characters that span the globe with brief tangential storyline elements in Africa, and President Obama's White House office.  With the addition of an entity calling itself Satan involved, it doesn't take to much for the activities to threaten to become global.  A three chapter (the book is comprised of many short chapters) excerpt is here.


Sam McPheeter (1969), originally from Ohio, but has spend much of his working life as an musician/band leader withing the left and right coast of the U.S. punk rock movement.  Around 2006 he began writing short pieces within a variety of musical periodicals.  He has currently settle down in  in Pomona, California, where he lives with his wife.  This is his first novel.
The Loom of Ruin is 109 short chapters.  Each chapter focuses on one character and most of them are within the main "thread" of the story line.  If there is a main, main "thread", it is Trang, the permanently enraged Montagnard Vietnamese (Hmong) owner of nine Chevron gasoline stations in Los Angeles.  Trang has been accidentally shot not once, but twice, by the Los Angeles Police.  The second incident left a brain injury that causes him to be extremely angry all the time.  Because of this past history, a fear of racial unrest, and more lawsuits, the Los Angeles Police have a complete hands off policy with regards to to the enrage Trang, and so long as he stays within the City of Los Angeles, they won't touch him.

Trang's   Chevron gas stations are more successful than any other comparable stations in the world: by about 3%.  Chevron management would desperately like to figure out why.  Chevron is undergoing a corporate "make over" and this allows them to try and meddle in the affairs of his stations.  "Try" is the key word, as he is enraged all the time, and the police won't touch him, mayhem ensues frequently.  There are a variety of subplots that all orbit, often very loosely, around Trang and his gas stations. They span from grocery store shelving arrangers to rebellious oil workers in Nigeria.
The novel is often very funny.  It did make me laugh out loud (LOL).  That is fairly unusual for an apocalyptic novel.  There have been other satirical apocalypse-progress novels that I have found amusing at moments.  But I don't remember laughing much.  Just past 10% of the way through (Kindle 457/3874) I had LOL'd three times, and been amused an uncertain number of other times.  And a lot of it is a pure, if sometimes gruesome, slapstick humor.

The punk element comes from the anti-PC tone to the proceedings.  It shows all groups, creeds, organizations, and religions, in the very bright, harsh glare of reality.  It exposes both the idiocy of corporate management, while equaling skewering the idiocy and complacency of working America.

Through much of the novel, I wondered why it wasn't better known.  Everyone likes a good disaster, and it is funny as well.  The problem, to my mind, is that the carefully woven tapestry unravels at the end.  I had some suspicions early when some of the threads seemed to be hanging out on their own, but the ending is rather detached from much of the rest of the story.  Even with all the intricate machinations of the entity known as Satan, the final disaster requires a lot of coincidence to work, and truthfully could have been set off at page one without all the entertaining stories in the middle.

The net effect was to be disappointed by the end of the novel.  What starts of as a highly funny look at our modern urban wasteland, just falls apart.  The very gritty sardonic-realism of the common people, is contrasted different sensibilities than mine, who will probably really like this novel.  It is one of the very few novels (G.A. Matiasz's End Time being another possibility)  that would have an anarchist-liberal world view.

For our descriptive ratings: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7 with  7 being high.

Realism is pretty strait forward, it is a slightly sarcastic depiction of real life.  People work in crummy jobs, find themselves in crummy situations, and often have a very poor idea of their actual standing (good or bad) within the world.  It is over the top, particularly at the end, so I will be cautious and put it above the midpoint at 5.

Readability - how easy is it to read.  The novel is very fast paces, and the short chapters keep it moving.  There are some in jokes, but I doubt you need to catch very many of them to make the story worthwhile.  At the end, there are so many threads being pulled together that the disparate points of view, and short chapters start to work against the pacing.  None-the-less, a fast easy read:  a 6.


PioneerPreppy said...

I just don't know where you find the time to read all these man. Or even find them all.


russell1200 said...

Pioneer: LOL-these shorter, quick reading ones aren't so bad. It is the doorstops (600+ plus), even the good doorstops, that tend to kill the numbers.

I could say the same for all you do around your place.

In my case, I don't watch TV so other than being here on the computer, reading is my main recreational activity. I also, when I put my mind to it, can read very quickly. You loose some of the world play, and may even not catch the import of some details, but not all "literary" works have much in the way of hidden features to miss.