Monday, June 30, 2008
I learned after I finished The Ruins of California that it actually started out as a memoir, and then Martha Sherrill discovered some secret she could neither print nor leave out. I'm not sure whether I would have read it differently if I had known there was some autobiography to the novel -- I suspected as much anyway, when I read that both the author and her protagonist were raised in Los Angeles. Inez, the narrator and main character, tells us about her life split between her mother, a former flamenco dancer, and her bachelor father, with his revolving door of girlfriends and man-on-the-town lifestyle. I found it a little slow going at the very beginning but soon became completely absorbed in Inez's coming of age. For most of the book's 10-year span, she straddles a fascinating border of exposure to the free-living California of the '70s and her own innocence, which I suppose is common to any teenager in any time or place. Sherrill's novel is fast-paced enough to hold the reader's interest while being entirely character driven; the story really is simply Inez's development from child to young adult, though the culture of California at the time is captured here as well.