Wrack & Ruin by Don Lee was quite the ride. You start with the fairly innocent scene of an organic Brussels sprouts farmer having a string of bad luck. But as the story progresses and you find out he was once a famous sculptor, things just keep getting worse and worse. Between a developer trying to get his farm for the 18th hole on a new gold course cum resort and his brother’s failing movie project starlet seducing his best friend, he barely has time to deal with his ex girlfriend putting nails in his tires and the local pot dealer taking offense at his personal plants.

This book was a fun and poignant view into the life of an artist who found fame and didn’t like it and tried instead to retreat into the calm obscurity of a Brussels sprout farmer. The writing is absolutely phenomenal and the characters are fresh and complex.

One aspect I found very interesting is the reason that the main character left the art world was not only that he found the constant creative pressure and critiquing painful, but that he was slotted into the label of Asian American artist and everyone tried to keep forcing his work into an interpretation based upon that. As a reader, you definitely draw parallels at this point between Lee and his character. It makes you think twice about whether pigeon-holing artists and authors with a race label is helpful or harmful. Are all those classes based around African-American or Asian-American literature doing justice to those authors? Or is it forcing their work to fit an archetype and we get disappointed when they don’t deal explicitly with issues of race or even gender? And can any author cross the line and write about another race? Or is that going to be a problem? All questions that I think the educational hegemony are going to have to start asking themselves in the near future.

But the whole book is not about this. It’s about man struggling to find his place in the world and get along with everyone else. The race issue is simply one aspect of that. Wrack & Ruin is a fabulous book that I definitely recommend reading. It also left me craving Brussels Sprouts, so I made a batch sauteed in garlic, oil, salt, and pepper and smothered them in Hollandaise sauce. Yum…

Cover of Wrack and Ruin