THE LOOM OF RUIN
by Sam McPheeters
262 pages, softcover, fiction
Mugger Books, 2012
A washed-up TV child star. The president of the United States. An unemployed Hungarian masquerading as a detective. Satan. These are only a few denizens of Sam McPheeters’ fallen world, its epicenter being the most unassuming corner of LA. A dry, glamour-free oasis of cardboard boxes and abandoned warehouses, littered with fast food wrappers and non-functioning cell phones tossed from the freeway overpasses above.
Rising from the overpopulated wasteland is Chevron franchise owner Trang Yang, elevated beyond his gray reality by a steady flow of pure, seething rage. Trang arrived in California a decade earlier, a hopeful immigrant whose future was glowing with possibilities. But after an LAPD officer’s stray bullet passed through his brain, his thoughts and emotions were reconfigured into a nigh-superhuman force of violent, unstoppable anger.
In an effort to sweep their blunder under the rug, the LAPD has granted him complete immunity. This allows Trang the freedom to assault, mangle and potentially kill any customer or passer-by who enters his hate-sphere. In an unusually restrained moment, he tells an aging Chevron representative, “You old. Go to graveyard now.” For the most part, he’s more likely to deliver sentiments like this with an aluminum bat or a bumper torn off a station wagon.
The unlikely protagonist is a surprisingly effective anchor as The Loom of Ruin unfurls. Dozens of characters are introduced, developed and/or decapitated in monumental sweeps of brutality and hilarity. Like Trang (and most educated people), McPheeters clearly harbors an understandable disdain for humanity. But unlike his main character, the author is also capable of sympathy. Most of the residents of his teetering Los Angeles are flawed and self-absorbed to the point of retardation, but those who survive Trang’s wrath beyond a few pages are still fully formed and deeply impressive creations in their own right. You may even like one or two of ‘em.
While juggling a large number of fictional people, McPheeters maintains his theme of mankind’s glaring deficiencies. The decline of our social fabric is simultaneously dissected at subtle and catastrophic levels, sometimes with rabid zeal but always right on the money. Though he veers towards the wildly comedic (and even the supernatural), he doesn’t sacrifice focus; the mounting chaos is expertly organized without stooping to smarmy cleverness.
This level of creative composure may surprise someone who’s only casually familiar with McPheeters’ early work as frontman for legendary hardcore band Born Against. But he’s spent many years excreting a skull-cracking array of projects: (non-)rock groups Mens Recovery Project and The Wrangler Brutes, the Vermiform Records label, self-published printed work like Error and Clog, etc. In recent years, he’s done articles and essays for Vice, The Village Voice, Punk Planet and many others. As someone who’s enjoyed pretty much all of his output, I’m compelled to note that The Loom of Ruin is his best work yet, in any medium.
This is a truly great novel about not-so-great times. Like its bloodthirsty protagonist, it seems largely fueled by the desire to target and eradicate the unacceptable blunders that most of us try to ignore. We live in an age where hard work is considered low class. Talent isn’t as enviable as foundationless fame. Literacy is generally unfashionable. In the midst of all this, a first-time novelist unveils something jarring, innovative and relentlessly entertaining. One just mourns the days when there was a larger reading audience with the desire to be entertained.
It’s reasons like these that make Trang Yang the single most powerful fictional creation to come along in decades. If the story’s many other characters represent the failures of the human race, Trang serves as a much-needed annihilator of those failures. I only wish there was one of him stationed on every street corner in America.
Sam McPheeters will be touring the US in support of The Loom of Ruin. The schedule can be viewed HERE.