Venturing outside of my comfort zone, but still sticking within the realms of dark fiction for the purposes of this blog (think Southern Gothic in this particular case). With The Ruin Season, Triana offers a no-punches-pulled approach, and it works on many levels. This is Triana’s first novel, and it’s a sign of great things to come. Jake Leonard, the protagonist, is near 40 and somehow managing to maintain his composure despite living with bipolar disorder. He’s been divorced from his wife for a few years and has been hooking up with a girl half his age who has a bit of a drug problem and listens to too much death metal (personally I find the latter attribute to be less then problematic, but Jake doesn’t seem to be too pleased about it…different strokes, eh?). After the death of a close friend, Jake and his ex-wife meet again and things become a bit…knotty (there’s a homonym here that would also apply). Plenty of sex and violence throughout these 305 pages, which I certainly appreciate, but Triana digs deeper than that, which takes this book to the next level.
One of the greatest strengths of this novel is that Triana doesn’t just settle for one simple linear plot line. There are a multitude of things going on in this story, sub-plots building into main plots, almost intersecting with non-plots (is that even a thing or did I just make that up?), occasional chapters told (years?) later by Jake’s barber/friend, etc. Though some readers might disagree with me, I prefer this approach because it feels closer to real life, which is even more crucial in a book without fantastical elements such as this one. However, this device is not as easy to pull off as it sounds. In the wrong hands this book could have become trite and boring without that oh-so-important overarching plot taking control, but Triana has crafted characters that feel like real people and there’s plenty of story going on without the need to qualify it as something more than it is.
It’s also interesting to read about a character (we’re still talking about Jake here) who has a serious mental illness, but it’s not the most important thing about him. He’s majorly flawed, but ultimately is trying to do the right thing. His illness definitely plays into the story, but it’s almost incidental. Aside from a few key scenes, this book could have been almost the same (albeit slightly less dark) without the mental illness angle, but it’s a character trait that gives more depth to Jake. Honestly, I do wish the illness played a slightly larger role in the story, but ultimately it’s a pretty minor complaint. I know this story was very personal to Triana and likely cathartic to write, and he succeeds in addressing the stigma of mental illness without furthering it. I highly recommend reading this article Triana wrote called Broken Mirrors: Mental Illness in Fiction and Film. In the article, Triana opens up a bit about his own personal struggles and discusses examples of movies and books that depict mental illness with realism and/or care. You can find the article here:
Overall The Ruin Season is a great debut and I’m looking forward to reading what Triana does with horror in his upcoming novel Body Art.