When Cookie Figowitz, the cook for a party of volatile fur trappers trekking through the Oregon Territory in the 1820s, joins up with the refugee Henry Brown, the two begin a wild ride that takes them from the virgin territory of the West all the way to China and back again. One hundred and sixty years later, Tina Plank, an unhappy teenager, meets Trixie, a girl with a troubled past, and the two become fast friends. But when two skeletons are accidentally unearthed from their common ground, the lives of Tina and Trixie, Cookie and Henry are brought together in unexpected and startling ways.
Jonathan Raymond attended Swarthmore College. He was an editor at Plazm magazine and received his M.F.A. from New School University. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
"A marvelous novel...a mystery as rich as the history of the Oregon territory itself."-Vanity Fair
"Raymond nimbly interweaves these parallel tales and manages to surprise...[a] subtle portrait of friendship and loss...[from] an astute, patient observer."-Entertainment Weekly
"Raymond's debut novel teems with carefully researched period details, intrigue...yet it never feels overstuffed."-Washington Post
"With The Half-Life, [Raymond] has come home prospecting for literary gold ...Oregon has given him something back."-San Francisco Chronicle
"Quietly stunning...Raymond is a kind of stealth bomber of the epic."-Newsday
"Terrific...The Half-Life gazes upon those fierce but ephemeral attachments that evade the history books. Multiple plots elegantly veer across the sprawling terrain."-Village Voice
Friendship is the theme of this ambitious and assured debut novel, which is set in Oregon and spans a hundred years of change in the region. In the 1820s, Cookie is a young man employed by a roughneck party of fur trappers as their cook. With food supplies running low, the mood is grim; on a foraging expedition Cookie discovers the bedraggled Henry, who is hiding from a band of murderous Russians, and stows him away in the chow wagon. After the party successfully reaches Fort Vancouver, the two shack up together in the woods, and Henry dreams up the get-rich scheme of traveling to China to sell castoreum oil, which they extract from beavers. In an alternating parallel narrative, set in the 1980s, two teenage girls living on a commune outside of Portland also form an alliance. Tina, a California transplant, bonds with Trixie, a girl with a troubled past. Matters become complicated on the commune when two skeletons are found on the property, setting off a political tug of war between forensic scientists and members of a local Indian tribe. As the two narratives alternate Cookie and Henry run into trouble in China, while Tina and Trixie scrimp and save to produce an amateur film Raymond carefully probes the delicate imbalances that develop in both friendships. The synchronicity of the two stories is subtly engineered and never belabored; convergences are balanced by some unexpected divergences. Whether chronicling the hardscrabble culture of settlers in new territory or the discontent with sprawling overdevelopment generations later, Raymond supplies a wealth of detail about the Pacific Northwest, making plain both the rewards and sacrifices of progress. When tragedy strikes for both sets of friends, it feels as natural as the landscape, surely and deftly closing Raymond's circle of ambiguity, loss, loyalties and love.