(Jon Raymond reads at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight at 7 pm. It's free. You should go.)

It will be easy for most readers to identify with the tension that builds early on in Jon Raymond's new novel, Rain Dragon. The narrator, Damon, and his girlfriend, Amy, leave Los Angeles in search of a home in the Pacific Northwest. They're tired of city life and want to find something earthier, more authentic. Specifically, they want to join a commune, something far away from the internet and commercialism, where people can live freely, simplify their souls, and finally—finally!—catch their breath. Who hasn't longed for a simpler life, somewhere else? The Northwest—hell, even a Northwest city like Seattle—is full of people from places with long histories looking for a relatively blank slate on which to write a little history of their own.

Of course, finding a commune that jibes with your personal philosophy is harder than it sounds. Damon explains that after a long search, he and Amy were left with "an herbal tea factory up in Bellingham [that] didn't seem very enticing" and Rain Dragon, an "organic farm in the foothills of the Cascades" that for three decades had "been churning out excellent yogurt and yogurt-based products," as well as "award-winning cheeses and holiday eggnog." When they arrive, Amy immediately falls in love with the idea of beekeeping and creating a line of organic honey-based products.

For Damon, though, the simple life is not that simple. It turns out that, after an existence devoted to education and office work, manual labor doesn't come easy to him. He feels unuseful, unliked, and strangely out of sync with everyone around him...

(Keep reading.)