cover image California Golden

California Golden

Melanie Benjamin. Delacorte, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-49785-2

Benjamin (The Children’s Blizzard) sets this attuned if cluttered story of a frustrated woman and her striving daughters against the backdrop of California’s emerging surfing scene. Carol Donnelly, a onetime prospect for the Olympic swim team, struggles with her role as a housewife in the 1950s, having scuttling her dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer. While raising two daughters, she becomes a champion surfer, often leaving home for long stretches. In 1962, when her daughters, Mindy and Ginger, are teens, they take up surfing in hopes of winning their mother’s affection. By 1967, Mindy is a successful surfer and tours Vietnam with the USO. Ginger takes another path, leaving home to live with an abusive boyfriend who drags her into the violent world of a drug-dealing cult. The story slips into melodrama after Ginger shows up at Mindy’s doorstep to drop off her unwanted daughter, whom she had with Mindy’s surfer ex, and the sisters bring the baby to Carol, hoping to reconcile with their mother once and for all. The core family story is moving, but Benjamin loses focus amid the many themes—Vietnam, the 1960s counterculture, and domestic violence being just a few. These women can hang 10, but the novel doesn’t quite hang together. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners. (Aug.)