The Loom of Ruin starts promisingly—its epigraph is a bit of spam from 2007, the golden age of spam, when random-word generators composed lovely, paragrammatical sentences that almost made sense. "As plank of their pink religious convictions," it begins. It ends: "...tailgating veterinary and indigenous gases without any ornamentation. With it you devalue still."
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The first sentence is also promising: "Trang was angry." Trang is the Hmong owner of nine Los Angeles gas stations, and his anger is neurologically permanent—an off-duty LAPD detective accidentally shot him through the head 10 years ago, changing his personality. When he woke from his three-day coma, "he saw the world clearly for the first time. The vast clutter of his life had been swept away and all that remained was hatred."
That was the second time the LAPD crossed Trang—the first time, a cop maced him and smashed his skull—and ever since, he's been on the LAPD's list of "untouchables," along with diplomats and the mayor. This deus ex machina lets Trang run riot through Los Angeles in a bloody picaresque, smashing people's cars, beating TV crews into the hospital, and plotting to massacre all of the LA Lakers with a machete.
The novel—by Sam McPheeters, who used to sing in the hardcore band Born Against—is woven almost entirely of deus ex machinations. Dozens of characters and plotlines tangle together over 109 chapters in 262 pages (making each chapter an average of 2.4 pages). There are private detectives, corporate spies, FBI agents, meth-head scam artists, rappers, personal shoppers, and a demon voice that haunts an unscrupulous lawyer. Barack Obama even makes an appearance, smoking a Lucky Strike and conferring with Reggie Love before going for a nightcap with the king and queen of Spain. The Loom of Ruin is beach reading for people who feel too cool for John Grisham.
The writing is as choppy as the plot, and some of the sentences are flat-out terrible. ("Unease fluttered Shoup's stomach anew.") But the Los Angeles of McPheeters's imagination is a jacked-up, Technicolor, slightly supernatural city, a city where, for several weeks, the car of a washed-up child star is perpetually, mysteriously covered in bird shit. The solution to the mystery: He works at one of Trang's gas stations, where seagulls flock to feed off a rotting human head that landed on the roof after one of the novel's spectacular car wrecks.
And McPheeters plays heavily with the city's cultural tensions—ethnic, religious, political, economic—with a cast of characters more diverse than the United Nations. But after the first 50 pages or so, The Loom of Ruin metastasizes into a tedious kaleidoscope of coincidences and outsize characters. The nonstop Technicolor can be headache-inducing. Still, it's not bad for a beach read.