Living on the margins

The Wonder Valley in Ivy Pochodo’s book is that of Los Angeles and that city and its desert setting are the background for this story of people living on the edge.

The book begins in 2010 with a naked man jogging through the city, causing an a traffic jam and encouraging another man to leave his car and follow. The story then moves back four years and the narrative shifts to a small commune set in the desert and the people who will end up being drawn there. The book is told by switching viewpoints between a number of people, some of whom are in the past and some of whom are in the more recent storyline – some, of course, appear in both but that isn’t always obvious until a lot later in the book.

At first the different storylines appear unconnected and, although I usually like that sort of narrative, I found this a bit confusing until I began to see what was happening. This didn’t occur until well after half way through the book and I was tempted to abandon it long before that point because I wasn’t sure that it was ever going to make sense. I am glad that I kept at it, however, because it does all make sense in the end.

All the characters in this book are people living on the edge but you don’t always know their stories immediately. Characters include a young man just out of prison looking for his homeless mother, a young woman who has run away from her life after making a stupid mistake, twins who live with their parents in the commune and feel overlooked by their parents, a man with a middleclass family who is looking for some type of freedom, and a young man who has a love/hate relationship with his companion and who is living by low level criminality. The characters are involved in or peripheral to homelessness, drug taking, small time theft, violence and coercion.

I think that the author was trying to give the reader an insight into the way that people on the margins of society often live. These people will ever never achieve much, rarely succeed or really have many chances of making money. The book shows us the beauties of living that way (friendship, freedom, etc.) and the miseries.

I thought that this book was possibly trying to be too clever. The narrative style was confusing and could have been simplified. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly engaging. I felt that I was reading a book that was self-consciously “literary” rather than one which was designed to be enjoyable. It is cleverly crafted and there are some passages but it wasn’t a book that I could find satisfying.

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