LALA Magazine

Fall 2017

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78 LALAmag.com LOS ANGELES ABOUNDS WITH spectacular women writers. Think of Janet Fitch, Danzy Senna, Maggie Nelson, Natashia Déon, Lisa Teasley, Laila Lalami, Aimee Bender, Nina Revoyr, Michelle Huneven, Michelle Latiolais, Marisa Silver, Judith Freeman, Lisa See, among others. To add to these names are two notable young authors who have noir-ish books coming out this fall: Ivy Pochoda with her third novel ,"Wonder Valley," and Liska Jacobs with her debut work, "Catalina." Both books, set in greater L.A., touch many of the bases we expect in L.A. fiction. In them, there are spiritual con games, whackos in the desert, vagabonds, people taking way too many doses of way too many drugs and, of course, lost youth reinventing themselves, or failing to do so. "Wonder Valley" takes the requisite three plots of the thriller genre—in this case, a recently released convict called Ren who searches for his homeless mother; a wandering, traumatized young woman named Britt who ends up in a desert cult, and a depraved criminal drifter, Blake, with a deep-seated grudge—and adds a fourth, a disillusioned lawyer named Tony who gets caught up with all three. Pochoda weaves these threads toward a satisfying, if somewhat grim set of conclusions. The veteran Angeleno crime writer Michael Connelly ("The Black Echo"; "The Lincoln Lawyer), says that "Wonder Valley," with its expert storytelling, is "destined to be a classic L.A. novel." In "Catalina," Jacobs tells the story of Elsa Fisher, a California native who has had a skyrocketing career in the New York art world—skyrocketing in the North Korean sense of a great, surprising launch followed by a disastrous, exploding-in-the-wrong-place ending. She moves back home to the friends, and fiancé, she left behind, and proceeds to pop an alarming number of pills washed down by a small lake's worth of white wine. She heads with her friends for a weekend on Catalina Island, itself a microcosm of the beauty and tawdriness of the Southern California dream, and goes on a very matter-of-fact hellish bender, reminiscent of Joan Didion's "Play It As It Lays"—although, unlike Didion's novel, there is no sense that there is something new under the sun about depression and debauchery. Pochoda and Jacobs are intrepid observers of our current scene, and while Pochoda wields the tools of her genre with aplomb and expertise and delivers much plot- based pleasure, Jacobs swings for the literary fences. Elsa's story in "Catalina" has all the inevitability of Emma Bovary's and Anna Karenina's with all the darkness of Charles Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis. There is little salvation available in "Wonder Valley," but it's there in touches. "Catalina" is just fun—Elsa's recklessness makes for a delectably exciting ride—and, if you like your fiction dark, it is deeply satisfying. But if you are looking for redemption, as perhaps Elsa, Britt, Tony and Ren all are, well, I don't think you'll have any better luck than they do. L.A. fiction, from Raymond Chandler to Walter Mosley, Attica Locke and Steph Cha, has reveled in noir— that rich concoction of illicit pleasure, gloomy depravity, unknowability, dead ends and pure style—and these two books, although not at all typical detective novels, luxuriate in the noir mood. For us fans of the genre, that is recompense enough. La Femme en Noir Two ascendant Angeleno novelists, Ivy Pochoda and Liska Jacobs, electrify L.A.'s oldest literary genre. BY TOM LUTZ COVER ART MANIPULATIONS BY GRANT SHUMATE

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