These thirteen linked and evocative stories are set in Newport Beach, California, a Southern California landscape that is at once breathtakingly gorgeous -- the palm trees, the water, the yachts, the sand, the twinkling lights -- and emotionally bereft. Like Victoria Patterson, an exciting new fictional voice, I grew up here too, though many years ago. I went to the same high school as Rosie, perhaps the most central of several repeating characters, and felt both the excitement and the danger of coming of age in a place so beautiful yet so brutal, where youth and beauty alone are the coin of the realm for a young woman.
But I didn't expect to like these stories as much as I did, because it's too easy to mock this Eden and to expose its blindnesses and hypocrisies. Think "The OC." From publishers' descriptions of the book, that was what I was fearing. I'm used to the thoughtless denigration (or alternatively the uncritical exploitation) of Southern California and Orange County for its shallowness. I was unprepared for this complex fictional sketch of a seductive Eden where children struggle with the pain of divorce, parents and grandparents seek fulfillment while mourning the damage, and people chafe against constricting gender and sexual categories. This collection is truly something fresh, free, and different -- and painfully accurate.
Both entertaining and haunting, Patterson's collection is a tour de force. She won me over, and I look forward to her future writing.