Last weekend I was telling my sister how much I was enjoying Jeff Parker’s latest novel; “just wait,” she said, “just wait.”
Perhaps the first storm cloud over the story was none another than Richard Nixon. He chats in the driveway of an Orange County home with one of the main characters; it’s the Mid-Sixties, and Nixon is an exile on Playa del Mar drumming up enthusiasm for his presidential campaign. Dick pumps the character’s hand and asks for his support. Apparently in his search for political redemption Nixon went door to door.
CALIFORNIA GIRL builds a family saga around the murder of Jonelle Vonn, a beautiful but troubled teenager. In the early going four brothers confront Jonelle’s family at a warehouse amid the orange groves of a doomed Eden; it’s a ‘rumble’ to use the author’s phrase, a vignette from all of Elvis’ early movies.
I enjoy TJ Parker’s work from LAGUNA HEAT to SILENT JOE. Parker is a quality writer; with this novel he’s caught Lehane fever. I don’t blame him for trying to stretch the genre into a breakout, signature novel. But, TJ, no good deed goes unpunished; metaphors are fine, historical figures can be good, multiple points of view expand the scope of a story. CALIFORNIA GIRL has some terrific scenes throughout and several compelling storylines; America’s first drive through church where David Becker ministers to Jonelle is a geat subplot. By the time these elements come together in resolution, the story resembles a Texas road sign riddled with holes. There are too many historical figures in the latter half of the book, one in particular who I’d love to name but won’t. Shock value aside the ending takes suspension of disbelief for a fast spin around Dead Man’s Curve.
In many ways genre fiction is the last holdout of storytelling; literary fiction and memoir alternate between fragile narrative and meaningless drivel. CALIFORNIA GIRL tries too hard, tells too many stories, uses too many gimmicks for my taste. Flaws and all, it stands head and shoulders above novels about the time the doorknob broke. That phrase is from Dylan’s DESOLATION ROW. From Dick Nixon to HIGHWAY SIXTY ONE REVISITED…the Sixties were stranger than fiction.