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Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda

Praise:

“Pochoda is a masterful storyteller. . . . [She’s] come up with a harmonious narrative that showcases the human condition, full of ecstasy, angst, rage, and beauty.” (Nylon Magazine)

“Evoked by Pochoda in shimmering detail. . . . Absorbing, finely detailed, nasty California noir.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Pochoda has written a novel alive with empathy for the dispossessed and detailed description of the California landscape.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Ambitious, absorbing. . . . Pochoda paints southern California with a vibrant brush, rendering an evocative landscape on which her desperate characters seek out redemption and rejuvenation.” (Booklist)

“Pochoda takes readers places they don’t often see with authenticity and clarity. . . . Vivid and sympathetic.” (Library Journal)

Wonder Valley is destined to be a classic L.A. novel. From desert scrub to cold blue sea, it carries an eloquent yet hard-edge take on the contradictions of a place so difficult to define. It’s impossible to put down.” (Michael Connelly, author of The Wrong Side of Goodbye)

“A vision of Southern California that is at once panoramic and intimate. . . . This novel paints an unforgettable portrait of people who long, above all else, for community and connection.” (Edan Lepucki, author of California)

Wonder Valley seethes with the vivid, searching idea of southern California. But as the intersecting journeys of hippie acolytes, restless hoods, lost boys and all manner of runaways converge, Pochoda enacts an aching dream of home that will possess and haunt you.” (Smith Henderson, author of Fourth of July Creek)

Review:

This tale starts the pace with a retrospective look on one morning in suburbia stuck in traffic whilst man running in a kind suit or lack of suit.
Some fine writing within, in the thick of that first scene and has you hooked in the need to know, the undoing of the scene how did the tale get to that timeline in all the wonder.
Over the timeline of 24 hours there are many journeyings in Los Angeles starting with the bizarre one of a man running to or from something, then the chapter shifts to another time line 4 years past in a middle of nowhere desert with all sort of rituals and possible tomfoolery with a motley crew of eager interns with father mother and two sons as lead.
Journeys, findings, doings and undoings and mystery in the mix of it all with crafted showing and revealing, keeping the reader on in tow, and like a magician the author careful unravels and let’s some things out some names, connecting dots, connect things visible and invisible connect.
Memorable reading of a retrospective observations of downtown/suburbia/desert/wonder valley sometime present sometime nowhere in the vastness of the desert something propelled.

Excerpts:

He runs unburdened by the hundreds of sacrifices these commuters have made to arrive at this traffic jam on time—the breakfast missed, the children unseen, the husband abandoned in bed, the night cut short on account of the early morning, the weak gas station coffee, the unpleasant carpool, the sleep lost, the hasty shower, last night’s clothes, last night’s makeup.
He ignores the commuters sealed off in their climate controlled cars, trapped in the first news cycle and the wheel of top-forty. He holds a straight line through the morning’s small desperations, the problems waiting to unfold, the desire to be elsewhere, to be anywhere but here today and tomorrow and all the mornings that run together into one city-wide tangle of freeways and on-ramp closures and Sig Alerts, a whole day narrowed to the stop and go.
His expression is mid-marathon serene, focused on the goal and not yet overwhelmed by the distance. He shows no strain. But the woman in the battered soft-top convertible will say he looks drugged. The man in a souped-up hatchback claims he was Crazy-high, totally loco, you know what I mean. A couple of teenage girls driving a SUV way beyond their pay-grade insist that, although they barely noticed him, he looked like a super-hero, but not one of the cool ones.

The runner is on pace for an eight-minute mile or so it seems to the man behind the wheel of his SUV who woke up late and didn’t have time for his own jog. He missed his pre-dawn tour of Beverlywood, the empty silence of the residential neighborhood when he visits other people’s cul-de-sacs, peering into the living rooms of dark houses as his pedometer records his footsteps, marking calories and distance until the morning’s ritual is complete. He wonders what went unseen—coyotes slinking home before sun-up, a car haphazardly left in a driveway after one too many, a man sleeping in the blue glare of his TV, a teenager sneaking through her back gate, liquor bottles shoved into bags and left at someone else’s curb. During these stolen hours before his wife and kids need him, he believes he glimpses his neighborhood’s secret soul, seeing beyond the facades of the bungalows and the manicured squares of unremarkable lawns into hidden discontents.

He begins to leave downtown, emerging into the no man’s land of medical buildings, drab apartments, and off-brand restaurants. He passes businessmen in flashy cars headed for the glass towers of the financial district, delivery trucks returning to the warehouse district, cyclists darting between the stop-starting busses.
It’s an odd crowd that watches him: arrivals for the first shift in the sweatshops, homeless who’ve wandered up from Skid Row a mile or so to the east, hospital workers—medic techs and tired nurses—leaving their overnights, residents of the few tumbledown apartments, undocumented workings hustling gigs in the Home Depot lot. To those who see him over here the runner is an apparition.

As usual, his parents began the slaughter early, hoping to finish before the sun reached full-strength. The day was still—the desert holding its breath. Sound carried from the highway, bringing the roar of trucks heading towards Las Vegas or Los Angeles. The crows circled overhead then settled in the palms to watch. A hawk swooped down on the action.

 

 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 30 October 2017