Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Rainey Royal," by Dylan Landis

“Rainey Royal” (Soho, 2014) isn’t (only) “about” the creepy attentions that some men, in this case some musicians, pay to girls and teenagers, but it is certainly a major theme. The author, Dylan Landis, doesn’t spell out -- past a certain borderline point -- the extent of the “grooming” activities that young teenager Rainey Royal's father Howard’s fellow musician/best friend/housemate Gordy performs, but it clearly verges very closely on if not consists outright of child sexual molestation. Rainey, 14 years old at the beginning of the novel, lives in the chaotic household where her father, a revered jazz musician, has young musicians and others constantly visiting, playing music with, living with, and sleeping with him. Throughout the book, Rainey is constantly vigilant, finding her own ways to avoid her father and Gordy and their acolytes/victims, as well as the general craziness of their house and lifestyle. These men's attitudes and behaviors are cloaked in the rhetoric of hipness, freedom, and artistic nonconformity to what are regarded as society’s ridiculous rules that don’t apply to artists. The author delineates this self-serving way of thinking and this terrible behavior in a devastating way. But as I said, this is not the only theme of the novel; the focus is on the strong, creative, resilient young woman that Rainey is, despite everything. Her mother left her father, and she very rarely hears from her. Her father is completely unreliable in terms of protecting her. So Rainey finds a sort of alternative family among her friends, especially Tina and Leah. She is rebellious and quick to see hypocrisy and society's facades. For example, she sometimes gets in trouble at school because of her defiant attitude and unwillingness to play the acceptance game that school often requires. Her friends have their own problems, but the girls support each other. Nothing is simple, though, as Tina both supports Rainey and in a way betrays her; somehow the author convinces us that these two behaviors realistically co-exist. The author also convinces us that Rainey, despite her difficult situation, finds her own way through her friendships, her refusal to put up with certain things, and her creativity; she has an artistic gift for making tapestries that honor or memorialize people, and through a bit of entrepreneurship, gets paid for these. The book consists of 14 stories or rather episodes, and through the course of the novel, Rainey grows up to the age of about 25, gradually taking control of her own life against all the odds, and establishing herself in the world and in her own life. And gradually she is able to be a bit more vulnerable and less combative, even showing a soft spot or two. Rainey is a complex, shining character, in an edgy story, and the novel is riveting.
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