New novel combines development, kung fu and brussels sprouts

Don Lee
Author Don Lee says after his first novel "Country of Origin," he wanted to try something lighter. However he found that writing a farce about a brussel sprouts farmer has its challenges too.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

When author Don Lee began writing his latest novel, "Wrack and Ruin," he wanted to do something light. He wanted to set the story in a small northern California town, and make one of his characters a farmer. He said the choice of crops was narrow, and one stood out.

"Brussels sprouts are just funny," he said. "You just mention brussels sprouts to most people, and they start to smile and laugh. I just thought it would be a gas to have this gut grow the one vegetable that nearly everyone hates."

Lee once lived in northern California and knows the tensions created there between people for and against development of small towns. To explore these tensions he created two estranged brothers, Lyndon and Woody Sung.

"So Lyndon used to be a famous artist when he was young, and then he walked away from the art world and became a brussels sprouts farmer," Lee says.

Woody on the other hand is a failed financial planner who squandered all of his clients money, including their parents.

"And that's why they are estranged," Lee said. "So now he's become a shady movie producer who's trying to get the financing for a remaking of a Hong Kong action film."

The brothers collide one Labor Day weekend in a fast paced farce. The story pitches the delicate world of the brussels sprout against the forces of development, high finance and aging kung fu film stars.

Lee recently moved to St Paul to teach at Macalester College after almost 20 years working at the Ploughshares literary journal in Boston.

He won the American Book Award for his first novel, a dark thriller called "Country of Origin." He told Minnesota Public Radio's Euan Kerr he quickly found farces are tough to write too.

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