July 31, 2021
These five books could not be more different from one another, but they undeniably confirm why California is such a fertile setting for fiction. (Note: this week’s subject line is the state motto.) Be it a small-town story of a family in logging country, a multigenerational immigrant saga, a dynamic short story collection from an Asian American writer, or different takes on Hollywood, selected here is a variety of narratives for readers who want to take a trip to the West Coast. You might discover unfamiliar communities and cultures, but the unforgettable characters are universal in their appeal.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By ASH DAVIDSON
Published by SCRIBNER
A big, juicy, gratifying novel set in the California redwoods, Ash Davidson’s debut satisfies in numerous ways. If you enjoy the current trend of nature-based fiction like Richard Powers’s The Overstory, this one’s for you; if you like multigenerational family stories with domestic upheaval and memorable characters, it will sweep you into its spell; if you crave eco-fiction that confronts the realities of climate change and the consequences of toxic additives, it delivers; if you like small-town fiction that captures a specific insular community (the Gunderson patriarch has “never strayed more than a hundred miles” from where they live now), pick this up. You will be greatly rewarded!
By ANTHONY VEASNA SO
Published by ECCO
One of the tragic losses of this past year is the passing of a talented young storyteller, Anthony Veasna So. His stories concern Cambodian American immigrants in Central and Northern California towns. Most feature gay characters, capture the racial and sexual politics of the day, and are drawn from his personal history. In “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” the owner of the shop has “never met a Chuck . . . she simply thought the name was American enough to draw customers.” They’ll open a lesser-known world for most readers, with an energy and social awareness that would have been a pleasure to see flourish..
By NAWAAZ AHMED
Published by COUNTERPOINT
Also based in Northern California, this time San Francisco, and another striking debut is Ahmed’s story of overcoming the emotional and physical distance between a queer pregnant woman and her estranged Indian Muslim family. The book is narrated by the unborn child, adding a unique perspective. It reminded me a bit of Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom, exploring similar ground of sibling relationships and mother/daughter dynamics, specifically in end-of-life situations. An especially powerful novel, it depicts the ways in which religion, politics and sexual identity play out in contemporary American immigrant families.
Something New Under the Sun
By ALEXANDRA KLEEMAN
Published by HOGARTH
A middling novelist has an opportunity to participate in a film adaptation of one of his books. Patrick is a fish out of water among the jaded production assistants and the star, Cassidy (a former teen actor). While he’s alternatively titillated and repelled by the Hollywood scene, his wife has taken their daughter to an upstate New York retreat and they are drifting farther and farther apart—in mileage and in their marriage. The novel is set in the near future (water has been replaced by WAT-R for those who can afford it) bringing a layer of dystopian unease to this utterly gripping novel..
By JAMES ELLROY
Published by KNOPF
Crime fiction is a great choice for summer, especially when it is set in a lurid period and place, with boldfaced names. Ellroy’s latest, (with a perfect title for today) is as usual set in Hollywood. His protagonist, Freddie (based on a real person), is the epitome of the sleazy con man, a corrupt ex-cop and a private dick for Confidential magazine. Ellroy, the self-proclaimed Demon Dog of American Noir, remains relevant and entertaining (read/reread his classic The L.A. Quartet). And check out his soon-to-be-released “James Ellroy’s Hollywood Death Trip,” a five-part true crime podcast series.