Like just about everyone else, I read Edan Lepucki’s second book, California, after Sherman Alexie recommended it to the world on an episode of the Colbert Report. It was a very good dystopian future novel. I tend to love dystopian future novels, so my gauge isn’t trustworthy. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t particularly floor me in any way.
This one, though. Shit, it’s good.
And it’s not the kind of novel I normally go in for, no grand historical relevance, no sweeping saga. It’s written in third person, but alternates in perspective between two principal protagonists. One is Lady, a mother of two, married to Karl who, by all accounts, seems to be quite a wonderful husband. Her eldest son, Seth, from a previous relationship with a man named Marco, is eighteen years old, and has never in his life spoken. He communicates via ASL and by using his smartphone to type notes which he hands to others to read. Her youngest, Devin, is five years old, and Lady’s in need of a live-in nanny to help with him, since she’s recently been contracted to write a book about her experience parenting a speechless child. So she hires S, a young artist who’s recently moved back to LA from Berkeley after finishing school and is looking for work, and S moves into the small cottage in the back of Lady’s house in the Hollywood Hills, near the pool. Add to this the fact that Lady has recently asked her husband to leave for a while, and they may or may not be divorcing.
Now that’s the set-up, and the novel’s action all takes place over the course of just a few weeks. It unfolds masterfully with the pace and gradually-ratcheting suspense of noir, but it’s set in a the technicolor sunshine of modern-day Los Angeles. And it’s just marvelous. Lepucki has created here a tight, precise, utterly original, and perfectly rendered domestic situation, loaded with meticulously-crafted dialogue, ample secrecy and sex, some explosive, jaw-dropping bad behavior, and enough emotion and heart to move even the toughest reader near to tears at some points.
It caught me utterly by surprise. I took the novel along on a recent trip to Hawaii with my family, thinking it would make for a kind of fun, thinky beach read, but I became mesmerized by the brilliance of this book before the plane even touched down in Oahu.
I feel like its release went relatively unnoticed, but I recommend it highly. Don’t sleep on this one.