cover image Wonder Valley

Wonder Valley

Ivy Pochoda. Ecco, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-265635-3

Pochoda’s third novel (after Visitation Street) uses a 2010 traffic jam as the springboard for an exploration of the rootless existence of marginal SoCal lives. Stuck in traffic, Tony, a married lawyer, spots a naked man streaking between cars and becomes obsessed with finding out who he is. Readers also meet Ren, a young man just out of juvie in Brooklyn who has come to L.A. to reconnect with his absent mother, who is living in Skid Row, and Blake, a drifter searching for the woman who killed his traveling companion several years ago. The novel then jumps back to 2006, when Britt, a young tennis player running from a tragic mistake, ends up at a ranch in Twentynine Palms presided over by a charismatic healer. There, Britt becomes involved with the healer’s teenaged twin sons, who go on to two different destinies. Toggling back and forth, the narrative eventually shows how events in the past affect the present, then brings the characters together as each enacts one last desperate attempt at self-salvation. Pochada has written a novel alive with empathy for the dispossessed and detailed descriptions of the California landscape, with a little of the film Crash thrown in. But as sympathetic as the characters are, their stories fail to come together as a dramatic whole. (Nov.)