If you've read Joan Didion's "Play It As It Lays" or can conjure up an image of Tuesday Weld from the film, you'll get an idea of the ennui that infuses Maggie Shipstead's "Angel Lust."
After reading this e-short, I felt like lying down, curling up and sucking my thumb for a little comfort. I ate some Caramel Cashew ice cream instead, cold, salty and creamy smooth.
It's a pitch-perfect story of a Hollywood family - movie producer Simon Orff, three times married, his two nubile teenage daughters, wife number one, the mother of his rootless, vague-minded offspring and wife number three.
Monty, 13, (Monterey) the youngest daughter is purging herself on a diet of water, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and lemon juice, the ingredients that for her constitute elements from the primary food groups. Vanessa, 19, depending on how you want to look at is either ethereal or just plain self-involved spacey. You get the feeling that despite their many trappings of money and prestige, the members of this family grouping are going to continue leading a life empty of much satisfaction or fulfillment.
Simon herds the girls into the Range Rover and heads out of Los Angeles up into the mountains to visit for a final time the farmhouse of his recently deceased father. Sorting through his father's few possessions, one of the girls comes across a stash of mementos, family relics from the past that inform the present in a way that is unsettling and uncanny.
If you understand the meaning of the title, you'll have a pretty good idea of the exotic heat that inhabits the story. If you don't know the meaning of "Angel Lust," that's another good reason to read the story. Shipstead writes with economy and a great sense of timing. She manages to breathe life into her characters in a way that leaves a deep impression about desire and disillusionment.
In a word: Penetrating