Southland

Nina Revoyr

Stretching across the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s, Southland encompasses an impressive breadth of cultural history without overreaching. After the death of Jackie Ishida’s grandfather in 1994, her aunt finds a box of old papers that cracks open a door to long-hidden family secrets and tasks Jackie with sorting them out. Almost immediately, her quest brings her to Jimmy Lanier who reveals that during the Watts riots in 1965, four black boys were murdered in her grandfather’s store — an event her grandparents never revealed to their adolescent children.

One of the boys was Jimmy’s older cousin Curtis, who he adored unreservedly, and the suppression of the crime was particularly tough for him to accept. Together Jacket and Jimmy work to uncover the buried past, and the narrative dips back to provide more context for the fragments they reveal. We see her grandfather’s experiences during WWII, when his family was evacuated to the interment camps along with other Japanese-American citizens and later when he enlisted to fight in the war. In the 1960s we see him, back in Los Angeles, living and running his store in the Crenshaw district — an area at the time that was populated by both Japanese- and African-American families. We see parts of Curtis’s experiences as a young black man during a tumultuous time.

While the book is plotted admirably, Nina Revoyr’s writing is at times distractingly awkward. For a book comprised largely of dialogue, hers is stilted in its attempts to be casually realistic. Several times I was thrown off by side details during a conversation, where I missed the thread of what a character was doing during the conversation and couldn’t figure out why Revoyr was including unnecessary actions. Two of the big moments near the end where major gaps are filled in and the plot twists were unfortunately the weakest parts of the story to me in terms of the writing. Not to mention that both of them most readers could infer from the heavy-handed foreshadowing. But overall Southland fuses such significant and seemingly disparate cultural experiences that for me it survives these deficiencies.

Link

Image of Southland
  • Ishmael

    Daniel Quinn

    Image of Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

    While technically fiction, this novel is almost entirely a conversation between a man and the gorilla Ishmael (who communicates telepathically), and it pretty much reads like a lecture on philosophies of ecology. The ideas are interesting, focused on Ishmael’s division of humans into two groups he calls Takers and Leavers — the Takers being those who followed the Agricultural Revolution through the...more

  • Hope in the Dark

    Rebecca Solnit

    Image of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

    Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and

    ...more
  • The Selfishness of Others

    Kristin Dombek

    Image of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism

    My friend Athena wrote a review of this essay on “the fear of narcissism” that suggested the writing fell a bit flat to her at the end. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I wound up feeling almost exactly the same way. A brief history of clinical and cultural understandings of narcissism, with sections focused around concepts like...more

  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers

    Max Porter

    Image of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel

    After the sudden death of a wife and mother, a father and two sons struggle in their mourning. To their rescue comes an oversized Crow, apparently a manifestation of Ted Hughes’s poetic creation, acting as a kind of counselor. (The dad is a Hughes scholar; the author Max Porter is a casual scholar himself.) The book rotates between the voices...more

  • Another Brooklyn

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Image of Another Brooklyn: A Novel

    I watched my brother watch the world, his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn.

    Beautiful, poetic novel built around memories of growing up in Bushwick in the 1970s. August...more

  • The Underground Railroad

    Colson Whitehead

    Image of The Underground Railroad (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel

    While Colson Whitehead’s novel is a fictional account of slavery that bends historical details, the cruelties and heartbreak are undeniably accurate. Cora is the center of the story, a woman who is an outcast in her plantation life, her mother having left her behind to escape North. Her own chance to take off comes in the form of Caesar, who...more

  • Are You My Mother?

    Alison Bechdel

    Image of Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

    Reviews were so mixed on this graphic novel that I had decided not to read it, until recently when I started reading a borrowed copy and couldn’t put it down. A follow-up to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father, this one turns to her relationship with her mother. And several of her therapists....more

  • The Book Thief

    Markus Zusak

    Image of The Book Thief

    Set during WWII in Germany, The Book Thief starts by following Liesel Meminger traveling with her mother and brother traveling by train to Munich. Her mother is a communist and has found a foster home for them to protection as political tensions rise under the Nazis. Along the way her brother dies, and Liesel crosses paths for the first...more

  • L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    Elisa Gabbert

    Image of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    I loved Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable, and this new book has similar cadences, even though these are true poems rather than lyric aphorisms. The Judy of the title is a character in Wallace Shawn’s play “The Designated Mourner,” which is set “in an unnamed, fictitious country ruled over by an increasingly fascist oligarchy” and involves the dissolution of...more

  • Airless Spaces

    Shulamith Firestone

    Image of Airless Spaces

    Passable, Not Presentable
    She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly difference it made in the way she was received; the way people turned away from

    ...more
  • Witches of America

    Alex Mar

    Image of Witches of America

    Alex Mar first met the witch Morpheus while making her documentary American Mystic, about three people on the fringes of organized religion. After finishing the film, she felt a personal curiosity about witchcraft and paganism and continued speaking with Morpheus; through her she connected with other witches to dig further into the occult world, and Witches in America is...more

  • The Half-Known World

    Robert Boswell

    Image of The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction

    While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn’t read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn’t read them recently, but...more

  • The Fire Next Time

    James Baldwin

    Image of The Fire Next Time

    Still powerfully resonant today, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was one of the most influential books about race in America in the 1960s. It is tough to read this now and note how little has changed and easy to understand why this book inspired Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and The Fire This Time, a...more

  • The Guest Cat

    Takashi Hiraide

    Image of The Guest Cat

    For the past few years I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge and this year I uncharacteristically got quite behind on my goal, so recently I’ve been reading a lot of short books to catch up. It’s actually been nice to get to books that have been on my list for a long time — like Annie John — and though it...more

  • Safe as Houses

    Marie-Helene Bertino

    Image of Safe as Houses (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

    Quirky stories where houses rarely seem safe; the shorter ones tend to have better premises than delivery, but the longer ones benefit from the increased development. It felt to me that I enjoyed each story more than the last one, which left an overall positive feeling, though I started out feeling underwhelmed. The finale, “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint...more

  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

    Muriel Spark

    Image of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel

    A strange little novel about a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls with a very unorthodox teaching style in which she focuses more on exposing her students to Art and Culture and stories of her love life rather than covering stuffy subjects like math and history. She collects a core group of girls around her, and they become...more

  • Reading My Father

    Alexandra Styron

    Image of Reading My Father: A Memoir

    Alexandra Styron is the daughter of William Styron, the novelist best known for Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. Her book Reading My Father is part memoir and part biography, focusing at times on her experience growing up with a well-known writer as a father, and at other times providing a straightforward narrative of his life....more

  • When Skateboards Will Be Free

    Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

    Image of When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood

    “A memoir of a political childhood,” Saïd Sayrafiezadeh writes of growing up as a child of an Iranian father and a Jewish mother who are members of the Socialist Worker’s Party. His parents separated when he was very young, so for most of his early years, his father was absent fighting for the revolution, while he stayed with his mother...more

  • The Mother Knot

    Kathryn Harrison

    Image of The Mother Knot: A Memoir

    It felt appropriate to read this directly after Annie John since they are both beautifully spare books about difficult mother and daughter relationships, although they are very different stories beyond that. Twenty years after the death of her mother, Kathryn Harrison weaned her third child, setting off a depression with unclear origins. She begins to unearth feelings and experiences...more

  • Annie John

    Jamaica Kincaid

    Image of Annie John: A Novel

    A stunning and spare coming-of-age novel, Annie John was originally published in The New Yorker chapter by chapter as separate stories. Kincaid focuses primarily on the internal shifts Annie experiences as she matures, mostly in how she transitions from loving and wanting to emulate her mother to nearly despising her and feeling ambivalent about her life in Antigua. Though Annie...more

Pages