The first few pages of Wrack and Ruin start off quietly enough. Lyndon Song, a famous sculptor who renounced celebrity for a life of obscurity growing organic Brussels sprouts, is having a small stretch of bad luck. Broken farm equipment, computer on the blink, flat tire, nothing too extraordinarily bad. By the time Lyndon’s gotten a spasm in his neck, had a crown replaced, suffered his third flat tire courtesy of his ex-girlfriend, and been kicked unconscious by an aging kung fu film star all before the end of chapter one, you realize you’re smack dab in the middle of a modern day, multicultural, environmental, and existential farce.
Lyndon’s quiet life on the farm takes a careening turn all over the course of a fateful Labor Day weekend. His scheming huckster brother, Woody, comes to pay him a visit at the behest of the multinational corporation trying to buy his farm. The farm just happens to be the last tract of land standing between the corporation and its planned behemoth hotel and golf course.
There’s been bad blood between Lyndon and Woody all their lives, owing to their diametrically opposed natures and Woody’s tendency to use everyone and everything around him. Neither one is happy to see the other and the visit soon turns into an epic string of accidents. The weekend’s chaos is punctuated by the Buddha’s four Noble Truths being mysteriously delivered via paper airplane. Somehow during all the mayhem (which also includes monkey-wrenching at the golf course, a windsurfing chase, a chowder festival, and a run-in with the law and six-foot-high marijuana plants) Woody manages to experience nature for perhaps the first time in his life, guided by a wildlife conservationist trying to save the western snowy plover from the golf course Woody is lobbying for. And Lyndon realizes for all his solitary ways he really is and wants to be a part of the small community of Rosarita Bay.
Lee manages to weave together an unbelievable number of characters, all wildly colorful and articulate. Their sarcasm and wit illuminate at least as much about liberal small-town life as their more sober, reflective moments. While the book is entertaining as it lurches from one improbable accident to the next, the action at times seems better suited for the screen than the page, and some of the characters feel more like plot devices than actual people with their expository dialogue. Still, the book is an interesting and humorous cross-section of life in a small town with big personalities.