Book Review : Kristopher Triana - The Ruin Season
Sometimes love just ain't enough.
My hometown was a strange place that had a knack at hiding its own tragic nature. Everybody always handled their business from behind closed doors and painted a smile on their faces for the crowd. It involved people occasionally dropping out of the portrait: institutionalized, incarcerated or dead, without questions asked. Life just went on without them. It was an isolated place ravaged by drugs and mental illness. Few works of fiction could evoke vivid memories of my upbringing but The Ruin Season, by Kristopher Triana portrays mental illness and small town dynamics with a grit and a fearlessness I've rarely seen before. Another present to humanity form the good people of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.
The Ruin Season operates on two timelines following two different protagonist. We're first introduced to Murray, the town's barber, who discusses past events involving his old friend Jake in journal-like entries. The novel's events themselves are following Jake Leonard, a loner working on a ranch and raising dogs, who's trying to rebuild a quiet life for himself after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When Jake falls for Nikki, the nineteen year old daughter of the town's sheriff, Jake is ushered down an emotionally destructive path again and he might not be able to save everybody and himself from the cruel hands of fate.
Certain things I'm predisposed to like. When Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing's head honcho Max Booth pitched me The Ruin Season as: "it's about this bipolar guy training dogs and he just has this shit life and there's drug dealers involved," I said yes immediately. Mental health is an important issue to me and The Ruin Season has to be one of the most nuanced and compelling ways I've seen it portrayed in fiction. Jake is extremely self-conscious of every choice he makes and tries to exert as much control everything as he can, yet he keeps succumbing to very human longings for love and connections, which drag him troublesome situations. Mental illness has its own way of shaping one's existence and Kristopher Triana understands its dynamic really well.
People like to say some boys are just born bad and they grow up to be worse men, but I can't get behind anythin' so foolish. Boys are born clean. We're the ones who dirty 'em, just as I believe Roy dirtied his son. I can't say that was the only reason Jake ended up the way he did, but I do believe he started him unto that long, dark road that he just never came back from.
The Ruin Season is a slow and unpredictable novel, which I really liked. It's half Shakespearean, half Southern Gothic in the tradition of Daniel Woodrell. Lots of the events ride on Jake's choices and volatile character, so it feels fresh and unpredictable. The Ruin Season avoids the clichés and pitfalls similar novels often fall prey to by borrowing elements from the Shakespearean tragedy. I thought it was a couple details away from being a transcendent read. I thought the dialogue was a tad insecure at times and tended to overdeliver when it wasn't necessary, undermining the power of some key scenes (Jake's first encounter with Kelton, for example). But I don't want to nitpick The Ruin Season too much because it's great. Kristopher Triana has great potential as a storyteller and he hasn't quite reached his peak yet.
This is a bit of an acquired taste. The Ruin Season is not exactly fast moving and action packed. It's a rugged and atmospheric novel that seek to portray a misunderstood issue and does a quite compelling job at it. The compounded, unpredictable and patient storyline really worked a number on me. Kristopher Triana is a smart and patient storyteller and an underrated tragedian. The Ruin Season is excellent at what it's doing, but it's doing something very particular and somewhat sophisticated: expressing a reality with fiction better than facts ever could. It's a novel that will challenge and broaden your perception on mental health and, you know, entertain the crap out of you.