"Modern Ranch Living"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross JUN 4, 2006)
Poirier's latest book returns to the Tuscon setting of his excellent previous novel, Goats, to meander through a long, hot summer in the lives of two somewhat strange neighbors in a suburban gated community. Kendra Lumm is a fitness-obsessed teenager, spending hours every day running, swimming, weightlifting, and eating right. Aside from her body, her main concerns are her genius/nerd older brother, her anger management therapy sessions, her strange (and hilarious) verbal syntax, and the mysterious disappearance of the boy down the street who kinda-sorta-not really used to be her boyfriend. Also down the street lives Merv Hunter, a 30-year-old water park manager who shares his insomniac mother's home. He's the only one of his prep school friends who never went on to college, and although he's very good at his job and likes it, feels the stigma of never having left home and gone on to bigger and better things.
Over the course of the summer, both will meet new people, learn things about themselves, and ultimately grow and mature. There's not much of a plot, per se, rather the book drifts along like the summer, as the reader gets drawn into Kendra and Merv's routine. Hovering the background, and occasionally stepping forward, is the plotline revolving around the the missing boy. A renown huffer of magic markers, he'd last been seen hanging out with some seedy, BMX-riding tweakers (methamphetamine addicts) who also happen to hang out around Merv's water park. However, for the most part, the book just meanders through the summer. Kendra grudgingly goes to her therapy sessions, attends a summer class where she makes a good friend, ponders her brother's sexual orientation, and heaps scorn upon his loser girlfriend. Merv attends to the daily routine at the park (including helping out a rich wheelchair-bound patron who has a debilitating muscular disease), and worries about his mother. A trip up to Phoenix to hang out with his old high school buddies (now pudgy cubicle-bound ex-dot commers) leads to a woman entering his life, and the possibility of a new relationship.
There a great deal to enjoy here, from little details about Kendra (for example, like other fitness compulsives, her first evaluation of a person is based of muscle definition and tone), to the way the desert heat comes alive. Characters are constantly in and out of pools, flipping air-conditioning on, and always in search of something to drink. The supporting cast is universally vivid, from the water park's ex-jock security squad, to Kendra's ex-punk parents turned vintage toy seller and golf pro. Interestingly, virtually every adult in the book has some kind of character flaw or problem, and there's a distinctly satirical aspect to anyone who has lots of book learning (examples include a poetry professor, and Harvard Business School grad, and Kendra's therapist). It's all part of Poirier has a skeptical take on traditional authority figures as well as the utility of dominant mass cultural trends and mores.
The book's humor is a little hard to convey properly, one hesitates to use the word "quirky", because that implies a shallowness that the book is far beyond. Yes, there are some over-the-top strange events in the book, and yes, the protagonists are a little strange--but mostly Poirier's people are very human, and the way they act and react to the world around them is very real. Another strong work from one of the most talented young writers around.
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Naked Pueblo: Stories (2001)
- Goats (2001)
- Unsung Heroes of American Industry: Stories (2003)
- Modern Ranch Living (2004)
- The Worst Years of Your Life: Stories for the Geeked-Out, Angst-Ridden, Lust-Addled, and Deeply Misunderstood Adolescent in All of Us (2007)
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- Hobart interview with Mark Jude Poirier
- Willamette Week Online interview with Mark Jude Poirier
- Read a story from Naked Pueblo
- Austin Chronicle review of Goats
- Seattle Weekly review of Goats
- BookReporter.com review of Unsung Heroes of American Industry
- Guardian Unlimited review of Unsung Heroes of American Industry
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About the Author:
Mark Jude Poirier grew up in Tucson, Arizona. He is a graduate of Georgetown, Stanford, the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins and the Iow Writers' Workshop. He was recently completed a Chesterfield screenwriting fellowship with Paramount Pictures. His novel, Goats, has been optioned to Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope and he is to write the screenplay.
He lives in Los Angeles, California and Archer City, Texas.