I hesitate to recommend My Absolute Darling because I almost closed the book after the first few chapters, whose vivid evocation of child abuse I found overwhelming, even repugnant. Yes, the heroine is indeed a survivor, as critics note, but she does have to endure a lot at the hands of her father and it makes for man rough pages. Two things really shined for me: the description of the Mendocino coast, with its physics beauty and its strange characters, and the complicated reality of abused teens, who choose to retreat rather than trust outsiders. But a tough read, for sure!
Tag Archives: California
A Gambler’s Anatomy is certainly different, starring a shadowy backgammon player who plays high-stakes games with rich men (all men) around the world and winds up needing surgery for a threatening brain tumor. We visit Singapore, Berlin, Berkeley. We revisit the hero’s strange childhood and the strange business ventures of his childhood friend. But as exciting as gambling and neurosurgery can be, the story never crystallized into a satisfying whole for me, just a string of occasionally tiresome adventures.
It must be fashionable for grown men to write about their childhood bullies. Unlike Whipping Boy, however, Bullies: A Friendship focuses on the present. The author’s one-time bully is now the president of a motorcycle club in Oakland, CA, and the author, somewhat strangely, sets out to explore in great detail the activities of the club, depicting Oakland as a drug-infested den of violence and hopelessness which leaves locals, and even semi-locals like me shaking our heads. Yes, there are very dangerous places in Oakland but even the author acknowledges that he managed to live there for months in complete safety, apart from his repeated trips to the infamous triangle where his ex-bully, now supposedly “friend”, operates. It turns out that motorcycle “clubs” (I would say gangs) are very violent and 200 pages of that simultaneously turned my stomach and bore me immensely. Stay away from psychopaths.
Warning: although it is August, this is far from beach-reading fare. And if you think you know how California natives were exterminated (by the bad Franciscan missions, right), you are wrong. Yes, the missions enslaved them in what has been described as “Nazi concentration camps”, but between roughly the Gold Rush and the Civil War they were just about decimated. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 takes us through the horrific political decisions (including by the US Congress, which funded a lot of the anti-Indian activities by militias), savage attacks, routinely on women and children, and forced removals to reserves that occurred during those years. It’s impeccably documented, chilling, and I have to say a little too detailed to be of interest to the casual reader. But it seems to me that some version of the story should be included in all California history textbooks.
Whether you have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone since “A” or you are just starting at X, this is a good one! Of course a solid psychopath makes for a good mystery, but there are at least three villains in this story, who intersect but never meet — even as the avid reader tirelessly anticipates how they will! And it’s the little details that make the story, whether it is having to re-read the manual of the answering machine before changing the message (pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-everything), or finding ways to meet the drought-mandated conservation measures (the internet did not change that!). I could do without Kinsey acting as a marriage counselor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Dragonfish investigates the disappearance of a Vietnamese woman married to a violent gangster who asks her first husband, a police officer, to find her. In a CSI-like Las Vegas, the officer uncovers his ex-wife’s secret life, dating back to the Malaysian refugee camp she fled to from Vietnam.
The story is very dark and the recurring motifs from the past life did not really work for me. Still, the plot is interestingly coiled.
Need a near-brainless, exciting read for the summer. Try The Cinderella Murder, which tells the story of a TV shows that specializes in revisiting dead cases, and selects the murder of a young UCLA student, decades ago. The body pile will increase as various threatened parties seek to eliminate embarrassing witnesses. If you can get over the California cliches, it’s fun and twisted.