A superb novel about family
A lifetime holding it together.
One party will bring it crashing down.
Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.
By midnight the party will be completely out of control.
By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames.
But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.
Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them… and what they will leave behind.
Like many people, I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s previous novel, Daisy Jones & the Six. As soon as I finished that novel, I went out and picked up The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo, and eagerly awaited the author’s next new novel. That new novel is Malibu Rising, due out in May. I was lucky enough to get a DRC, and I read it as soon as I could. I’m very happy to report that it is another excellent, character-driven story of family, love, loss and life.
Malibu Rising is the story of the Riva children: Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit. It is also, to a lesser extent, the story of their parents’ doomed relationship: Mick, the superstar singer; June, his first wife, who is never able to relinquish the hope that he will return to her and restore her dream family. The novel alternates between the main night of the story, and flashbacks that inch closer to the novel’s present — each one adding a bit more to the Riva family story, adding nuance and layers to the children, their relationships with their parents, and their upbringing — all the while, “Mick Riva’s shadow excelled at haunting each one of his children.”
It’s a story that starts out suggesting a happy, great family life in Malibu, but it quickly becomes apparent that actually the children’s lives are ones that were difficult and painful. The author gives readers such great portraits of each of them: Nina, the hyper-responsible eldest sibling; Jay, the superstar surfer, struggling with a secret that might upend his future; Hud, the kind-hearted and gentle photographer; and Kit, the youngest, itching for a chance to shine on her own merit.
Malibu Rising is also, in some ways, a novel about Malibu itself — it’s not that it’s as much of a character as are the Riva children, but rather that it informs so much of their development and mentality (not to mention their interests — they are all avid surfers).
What Nina loved about her hometown was how ants found their way to your kitchen counters, pelicans sometimes shit on the ledge of your deck. Clumps of horse manure sat along the sides of the unpaved roads, left there by neighbors riding their horses to the market. Nina had lived on this small stretch of coast her entire life and she understood she could do little to prevent it from changing. She had seen it grow from humble ranches to middle-class neighborhoods. Now it was becoming a land of oversized mansions on the beach. But with vistas this beautiful, it had been only a matter of time before the filthy rich showed up.
Finally, the novel is also an examination of the excesses of eighties celebrity and, in particular, Los Angeles fame. Not only do we see how fame and celebrity can twist characters’ morals and behaviour (especially Mick’s), but also when “legendary” parties happen, so too does some of the worst behaviour: things quickly spiral out of control as the Riva party progresses. There’s a nice little call-back to The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo, too, which I thought was a very nice touch (just a throw-away line).
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing is excellent throughout. Whether writing about the mundane, quiet moments of life, or the most heart-wrenching tragedies, she writes with an elegance and efficiency. The language is never florid, nor overwrought. It is all the more powerful as a result. Many of her descriptions are great, too. For example, when describing Nina’s ex-husband: “His face was attractive but forgettable, as if fate had not taken a single risk in composing it.” Each of the characters is brilliantly drawn, no matter of how central they are to the story: the Rivas, their friends and partners, and also characters who only flit in-and-out of their story… each comes alive on the page. Just an all-round brilliantly written novel.
As she pulled out onto PCH, “Hungry Heart” started playing through her speakers and Ashley felt just the tiniest bit of hope. Your whole world can be falling apart, she thought, but then Springsteen will start playing on the radio.
If you enjoyed Reid’s previous novels, then this is of course a must-read (and you’ve probably already pre-ordered it). If you haven’t yet read Reid’s work, then I would highly recommend any of them. The author’s latest three novels (including this one) have all been superb books.
Malibu Rising is another excellent, very highly recommended novel from an author who is, for me, a must read.
Also on CR: Review of Daisy Jones & the Six