Bridget Hoida on: California Top Ten

Not many people know this, but a novelist invented California. Really. Over five hundred years ago, long before it was a real geographic place, California was described in the pages of a book, written by Garci Ordonez de Montalvo, as a golden land “very near the terrestrial paradise” and populated, almost exclusively, by courageous women. I cannot tell you how fabulous I think this is. Not only because California existed in the imagination before it existed on a map, but also because California was quite literally written into being.

As a Nor Cal native (and So Cal transplant) I’ve always been drawn to California writers and it’s no secret that I have an incurable girl-crush on Joan Didion. Her use of whitespace is particularly inspiring to me and, if forced, I’d have to choose her novel, Play It As It Lays, as my favorite book. Ever. Although some may call my Didion ardor an obsession—it’s not stalking if she writes you back—I maintain it’s not so much Didion the woman but rather the sound of Didion’s words that have me so hung up. If you have yet to read Joan Didion I recommend all of her California cannon (from Run River to Where I Was From, with large bits of Blue Nights, and huge pieces of Slouching Towards Bethlehem strategically tossed in-between) but most especially, I recommend Play It As It Lays (with the original 1970s paperback cover, if you can find it, because nothing says “serious literature” like a topless blonde and a snake).

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After Didion, who for me will always be the author of my California I offer neither a rank list, nor the usual jacket covers, but a compendium, of sorts; the models and voices that inspired me when I set to work on So L.A. There is no London. No Norris. No Steinbeck, or Chandler even. Not that their moonish valleys, railroad entanglements, big sleeps and brambling grape vines aren’t inspiring, quite the contrary, but chances are if you’re reading this, you already know their works—if not also their words—and so instead I offer you:
Ask The Dust (1939) by John Fante
Although it is chronologically impossible, I’m secretly convinced Ask The Dust is what happened in the stacks of the L.A. public library when Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust (1939) and Charles Bukowski’s Post Office (1971) had a torrid, and heart-achingly beautiful literary love affair. Pages were dog-eared. Spines were spent. And nine months later Ask The Dust was born.
Cover of "Ask the Dust"
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Why Did I Ever? (2001) by Mary Robison
Fragmented, fractured and wildly brilliant, Robison’s Why Did I Ever tells the story of Money Brenton, a Hollywood script doctor who struggles to make her way, while making the rent. Money has ADD and a dysfunctional home life. What’s more, her son Paulie was recently the victim of an unspeakable assault and her daughter Mev is a meth-addict. This book is dark. This book is angry. This book (and everyone in it) is emotionally damaged. And it’s also one of the funniest books I have ever read. In Why Did I Ever Robison masterfully allows illness to not only define the structure, but also the narration of her novel and the result is stunning. I don’t use the word “genius” all too often, but Mary Robison is a genius. Because she can write a chapter in three sentences, like this: “I feel around in my handbag, extract something, use it, and put it back.  Later on I might need something else.  This is my life, what my life is really made of.
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The People of Paper (2005) by Salvador Plascencia
A bit of a disclaimer, I happen to know Sal. We went to grad school together, but I am convinced that even if I had never met him I would adore this book, because beneath its paper cover is a magical boldness that I covet, as Sal’s people are literally made of paper. There are bees and knees, international borders drawn in chalk, little girls who rot their teeth eating lemons, a graveyard of mechanical turtles, and a violent gang of carnation pickers who wage a war against sadness and omniscient narration. If you can find the McSweeneys rectangular edition buy it! Not only because you can stick your finger straight through the pages in spots, but also because it conforms to the papal decree.
The Land of Little Rain (1903) by Mary Hunter Austin
When I came across The Land of Little Rain I didn’t expect to like it, let alone fall madly in love with it. I mean who picks up a book about basket makers and sheep farmers in the desert and falls in love? But amazingly, that’s just what happened. The descriptions of California are so vivid and so reverently environmental that you feel not only as if you are walking Austin’s exceptionally described trails, but that you are also a damned fool for living in a man made house and abandoning the divine harmony of a more natural dwelling. Reading this book is like yoga without a mat. And if that’s not a high enough endorsement, I’ll also share that I named my firstborn child after a story in this collection. Really, I did.
Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1990) by Maxine Hong Kingston
There’s an opening moment in Tripmaster Monkey where the gloriously named Whittman Ah Sing contemplates suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Would he jump, like the other 235 others had, facing the land with “Coit Tower giving you the finger all the way down?” No. “Whittman would face the sea.” In Kingston’s book, Whittman thankfully doesn’t jump. Even though the sun setting over the ocean is tempting, Whittman never jumps. And that’s why I like him. I first read this book in Berkeley, on a co-operative rooftop with a view of the city –and on good days a view of the Golden Gate Bridge—and Whitman’s dilemma became for me, a sort of party favor. I’d bring it (and the book) with me almost everywhere and in a metaphorical game of truth or dare I’d ask unassuming cocktail guests from which side they’d jump. Not that I would. Not that any of us ever would. Ever. But it is such an interesting question. A question that complicated my relationship with San Francisco in ways even East Bay public transportation maps are still unable to accomplish.
 
The Serial (1977) by Cyra McFadden
I honestly don’t remember how I came across this book, which isn’t a book really, but a spiral bound collection of 52 short columns exploring the marriages, child rearing tactics and label laden domestic lives of Marin’s post-hippy and pre-yuppie “flash on” culture. It is satire at its best, and best of all, McFadden never shies away from using loads of cultural jargon, consumer references and “real” places.
America (1956) by Allen Ginsberg
Even before I attended college at UC Berkeley I’d make day trips to San Francisco and walk the “Beat” streets of North Beach. I’d duck into City Lights with the earnestness of most any awkward fifteen-year-old bookworm, and if I walked back to BART—instead of talking the bus or the trolley—I’d have enough money to buy a single used pocket edition of a City Lights book. I bought “America” in the early summer of my junior year in high school. By summer’s end I had memorized all of it.  Twenty years later I now teach it to my students “every chance I get.” For me, it never gets old.
In A Country” (1977) by Larry Levis
My final selection is a single poem by Larry Levis. I chose one poem because it seemed too gluttonous to choose all of them (although truth be told, I haven’t read a Levis I didn’t like). One of the infamous “Fresno poets” Levis’ poetry taught me how to write, with love and fear, about the soil of the San Joaquin and in So L.A., although the title invokes the perceived glamour of the Southland, it’s actually equally concerned with the hardscrabble beauty of agrarian culture,  which as Michael Ventura might admit is an equally “hard, hard beauty to love.”

*This post originally appeared on my new favorite blog spot, Conceptual Reception, thanks to the huge heart of poet and collector of obscure vocabulary, Karen!
From Karen: “I am so excited to post today.  In fact, this might be one of my favorite all-time blog entries to date.  The lovely women behind TLC Book Tours linked me up with the amazingly smart, fun author Bridget Hoida, whose new book  “So L.A.” is tearing it up. Completely convinced that Bridget is my kindred California spirit, I asked her to write a guest post of her “Recommended California Reading.” For more info on Bridget and her book, check out her rad website (and check back here for an upcoming review).  But I am now so excited to hand you over to her sharp, inspiring guest post for today.  Look out, though.  Your “to be read” list is about to get several books longer.”

-Karen Marie, Conceptual Reception, September 12, 2012

TLC Book Tour: Peppermint Ph.D.

The following review appeared on the blog Peppermint Ph.D.

You can find the full article here: Peppermint Ph.D.

So L.A. by Bridget Hoida
Lettered Press, 2012
Format – oversized paperback
Source – the publisher via TLC Book Tours
**FTC Discolosure – I received a complimentary copy of So L.A. from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.  However, the opinions and comments below are all my own and made without bias.

Why?  I have 3 daughters so the very real pressure on women to fit an ideal image is a serious issue to me. Those pressures exacerbated by the L.A. lifestyle was indeed something I wanted to know more about.
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What Now?  I’m happy to pass this one along to another blogger friend who would like to read it.  Just let me know in the comments that you are interested and leave your blog address as well as email so I’ll be able to contact you should you win :)
Bridget Hoida has also generously donated another copy of So L.A. to another Peppermint Ph.D. reader so next Friday, August 24, I’ll choose two winners :)
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Golden Lines


But contrary to the advice of seismologists, L.A. is virtually made of glass, its reflective surfaces sweeping and expansive, and so Junah was with me everywhere I went.

Puck and a drink or two is how I get through parties.

Jameson up, I said, looking at his salty hair and wondering if my instinct to push it out of his eyes meant I was ready to be a mom.  And a tall glass of gin with a straw and some ice so it looks like a Sprite.

Unlike Puck I didn’t mind being from a dusty place that sold Hydraulic Harvesters instead of Maseratis.  In fact, I missed it in a way that made my teeth ache.  But like him I slid on pair after pair of designer sunglasses and hid my origins well.  Not because I was afraid someone would call me out, but rather because I was afraid they’d ask me in.

Dean was a family man.  One of the good guys.  What the hell was he doing giving drunken tongue to a woman other than his wife on reality television?

What I meant was, if I worked at home, if I set up shop in one, three, seven of the bedrooms inside the house, I would actually have to work because there might actually be the possibility of Ricky or Immelda or the guy who does the bills suddenly walking in on me and expecting to see art, work, product, something other than a bedraggled girl, still in her pajamas, drinking gin with a straw and playing with rhinestones.

No, Magdalena, you already left and last time I checked, son trumped brother so take that to your shrink and smoke it.

When we first moved to L.A. my favorite thing to say was, That’s so L.A.  I used it to describe just about everything from fake boobs to traffic.  Then I got implants and started to drive.

And yet, here’s the thing: sitting silently next to Quentin felt all right.  It was comfortable even.  I had all sorts of things I could say, like: where are you from? or What do you do when the sadness gets so heavy you think it will crush you? or Ever killed anybody? but for the first time in a long time I didn’t feel the need to say anything.  And it felt good.  To sit.  And drink.

Standing in front of the Guadalupe Wedding Chapel I waited for a cab, and when it arrived it wasn’t yellow.  It was green with a billboard for Viagra on the roof.
Why isn’t anything like the movies?

Seriously, I snatched my keys from his outstretched hand.  I am just barely holding on here and you think a weekend with Mom and her bottle, watching Dad barbecue his dinner in the shed, is going to snap me back to reality?

We could have bought bikes and gotten inked and revved our engines, together.  But instead I was left.  In a hotel room.  Alone.  

Had I been there, had I not driven back to the ranch to work on water, you could have trusted me when I told you Junah didn’t fall from anything, but as you know I left him and down he went.  

He was the most level headed, until…
He was the safest climber they had ever met, until…
He was a badass soloer until…
…he fell to his death.
Until he fell to his death.
Until.


…Los Angeles, beneath the pixie dust and beyond the Sunset strip, is really nothing more than a desert where the water is scarce and we’re all thirsty.

Summary


Magdalena de la Cruz and her husband Ricky have made their fortune in bottled water and are living in L.A. among the filthy rich and famous.  Trips to the wax studio, power lunches, Pilates, gin, and business fill Magdalena’s days until her brother Junah is killed in a climbing accident…an accident that Magdalana feels responsible for.  Magdalena literally crawls under her bed for days and from there, her life begins to spiral out of control…retreating further and further within herself and physically re-constructing the outside.
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What I Liked

The chapter structure – from one paragraph to 3 pages, the chapters are very short and sometimes just seem to be a stream of consciousness…always from Magdalena’s point of view but jumping around in time as she explains her predicament and how she became a woman fighting within a woman.  Magdalena’s story is a complex one that would have been overwhelming I think without Hoida’s smart style in getting us inside Magdalena’s head.The complications woven throughout the plot…death, grieving, self image, the other woman, plastic surgery, therapy, marriage, fidelity/infidelity, sexuality, money, dysfunctional families, friendship…you name it; it’s here.  While this complex of a plot could be cumbersome, it isn’t in So L.A.  Hoida never brings it all back into a neat little package because it can’t be one…but she gives the reader enough information and enough insight to at least think about what the reader would do in Magdalena’s shoes.  So L.A. is so full of complications that I’m still thinking about it and trying out ideas as I get ready to post this review.

Puck – we’d all be lucky to have a true friend like Puck.  Someone who believes in you no matter what and accepts you just the way you are…freaky drama included.

Quentin – I won’t say too much about this character to keep from spoilers…but he’s a good guy.  Besides the obvious (and you’ll find that out when you get to that part), I think he really wants to help Magdalena…but unlike everyone else around her, Quentin realizes that she must want to help herself first.

What I Didn’t Like

No quotation marks – I’m an English teacher but this isn’t just a mechanical issue for me.  I really did have to re-read portions to make sure of who was saying what sometimes.
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Magdalena – pulling the seams out of Ricky’s clothes when she gets mad?  about things she’s just made up in her head???…there are times when Magdalena seems like nothing more than a spoiled brat.  Reading about her sometimes was like watching a horror movie…everybody in the theatre knows what’s going to happen when the young heroine decides to check into the old abandoned Bates Motel.  I wanted to scream at Magdalena more than once and say, “You dummy…THINK about this decision for a minute or two!!  Don’t go THERE!!”  But Magdalena goes there anyway.  It’s as if sometimes she’s trying to make things just as bad as they can possibly be.

Ricky – I’m sorry…I really feel guilty for this…but I didn’t like him.  How in the world he put up with Magdalena for so long, I’ll never understand.  He’s caught up in the L.A. lifestyle even more so than she is…and maybe that’s how he does it.  But, I just couldn’t see it.

Overall Recommendation


So L.A. is an intense look at the “power” of reinvention in a culture that values the outside of a person more than the inside…a Stepford Wives kind of culture that is L.A. as described by Hoida.  How can someone deal with real life in a world that is so make believe??  So L.A. is not a happy story by any stretch of the imagination…but neither is the issue of  stripping self image from individuals based on what others deem worthy…in any situation but especially not in Magdalena’s.  What complicates this story even more  is that Magdalena de la Cruz seems to choose a fabricated way of life in order to retreat into herself and protect herself from her grief…letting the outside world see a “costume” of sorts instead of who she truly is…possibly even a psychic protective measure after the trauma of Junah’s death and her perceived role in the accident.
Deep stuff this is.


The language and a few graphic sex scenes/fantasies would keep me from recommending this to everyone…it doesn’t bother me and I never felt that any of the scenes or language were gratuitous; I was shocked from time to time, but I think that was the point.  The rawness helps the reader see and even feel how deeply Magdalena is falling into her own trap.