A View from the Edge–Portland Author Mark Pomeroy’s New Novel: THE TIGERS OF LENTS

Portland author Mark Pomeroy’s meticulous new novel, The Tigers of Lents, begins with the “noise of speeding vehicles” cascading down from the freeway that cuts an outer Portland neighborhood in half. The rushing cars are, quite literally, bypassing an area where hopes are few and houses are “mostly on the ratty side.”

The character hearing the noise is 17-year-old Sara Garrison, the oldest of four children in a family where the mother is a retail clerk who drinks too much and the father is in prison. Sara is a soccer star at the local high school, but the season is almost over, her school is scheduled to be closed, and on this drizzly night she’s carrying bags filled with her family’s garbage, hoping to sneak them into a dumpster behind an apartment house.

With her mission accomplished, Sara returns to her family’s one-story rental with her stomach tense at the thought of the dysfunction inside. “This is where she lives,” Pomeroy writes. “It’s true.” In other words, this is her hard reality, and, unless something changes, her future will probably look much like her present—without the sports or the cheers or the education.

Starting from this bleak yet tenderly-rendered opening scene, Pomeroy slowly builds a full and compelling picture of a struggling family in crisis, where every member has difficulties to face without much hope of help from the others. But while his book is mainly about the Garrisons’ problems, fears, and modest hopes, it’s also about a place and a segment of society that have been tragically neglected.

Pomeroy has written elsewhere about what he calls the edge of poverty in America, where people might have jobs and homes but are never more than “one emergency away from real struggle.” Not only did he experience this kind of life as a boy but he taught for a while in the high school and neighborhood depicted in his novel.

Over the course of The Tigers of Lents, Pomeroy gives us the point of view of everyone in the Garrison family, except the youngest child, a boy who suffers neglect from those who should be taking care of him. There’s Rachel, the smart one, who leaves home to live with her reckless boyfriend; Elaine, the responsible one, who overeats and tries to keep the peace; Melanie, the mother, who soothes her aches from standing all day with glasses of ice-filled wine; and Keith, the father, who exits his prison cell wary of a world that has passed him by.

Image courtesy of Living Room Realty.

As he carefully weaves these perspectives and lives together, Pomeroy offers moments of modest hope: a chance that Sara might play at a local college, a possible reconnection between Keith and one or more of his daughters, the potentially healing properties of the wooded mountainside the children’s grandparents live on. But he never allows those hopes to seem false. Always, at every moment, everything is grounded in the gritty reality of a neighborhood and stratum of life that tend to suck the dreams and confidence out of people.

One of Pomeroy’s most impressive accomplishments is how well he renders the fluctuations of thought and emotion in dangerously vulnerable people, especially girls. Instead of making excuses for them or wasting time blaming society, he teases out nuances in the psychological and emotional struggles of people living at society’s margins.

Shopping street in Lents neighborhood, Portland, OR. Image courtesy of Living Room Realty.

In the end, The Tigers of Lents is a deeply satisfying read, but not because Pomeroy coddles his readers or gives his characters easy outs. It’s because he takes us through both hard situations and difficult emotions while being careful to show the importance of human relations and the ability, at even the direst moments, to make the right decisions and find a way forward.

Few novels explore the hard reality lived by Pomeroy’s characters and an increasing number of people of all colors and backgrounds in the United States today. Even fewer authors are able to do so with the skill, compassion, and attention to detail Pomeroy displays here.

Events:

Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m.–Mark Pomeroy Reading and Discussion (with Michael N. McGregor) at Third Place Books–Ravenna in Seattle, WA

Tuesday, June 18 at 7 p.m.–Mark Pomeroy Reading & Discussion (with Mary Rechner) at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.

Links:

Mark Pomeroy website

Pomeroy’s excellent first novel, The Brightwood Stillness (Oregon State University Press)

The Crash of Worlds,” Pomeroy article on the NW Booklovers website, about his background and the inspiration for his novel

The Lents neighborhood on Living Room Realty

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[…] can read the whole review here. And you can purchase the book […]

Joanne Mulcahy
Joanne Mulcahy
17 days ago

Thanks for this thorough review of a compelling novel! I’ve got the June reading date on my calendar.

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