Malibu, a city in California, is known for its gorgeous beaches, celebrity homes, surfing fans, proximity to Hollywood… and fires. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestselling novel Malibu Rising set mostly in the 1980s, captures the glamour and heartbreak of the place, seen through the eyes of various members of the Riva family.
The character of philandering singer Mick Riva is common to Reid’s previous novels (Daisy Jenkins And The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo), in this novel he gets a backstory–how an ambitious boy from a working class family becomes a music legend. However, he is not the focus of the story, Reid looks at the lives of his long-suffering first wife, June, and their children.
June met, was dazzled by, and married Mick when she was just 19, but soon realized he was not meant to be a family man. As his career as a singer took off, other women stepped into his life, and the disappointed June, taking over her parents’ seafood restaurant, turned to drink.
The parenting is left to the oldest daughter Nina, who has to drop out of school to become a surf model and reluctant pin-up girl, while her siblings Jay and Kit take to surfing, and a half brother (dumped into June’s arms by his mother), becomes a successful photographer. Because of their unstable childhoods, the Riva clan is very close-knit, and even Hud is never made to feel that he is the odd one out among the other Riva offspring.
The big social event of the town is the annual end-of-summer party at Nina’s beautiful, art-filled beach front home. Celebrities and gawkers all attend, and the legend goes, whoever knows the address is considered invited. The story moves between their past and the build-up to that year’s party, after Nina has been publicly dumped by her tennis star husband.
As booze and drugs flow, the party goes increasingly out of control and Nina is in no state of mind to control the mayhem. To make things worse, her husband and his girlfriend have an ugly spat on her lawn, and if that was not bad enough, a suddenly penitent Mick Riva decides he wants to mend fences with his children, all of which causes an emotional turbulence, Nina is not prepared for.
The book is funny, sad, unpredictable, with the seaside location coming to life through Reid’s crisp prose. Even those who have no interest in surfing, will be hooked by her descriptions. The family dynamic is more important, however, with Jay and Hud also heading for an unexpected showdown and a mousy young girl being welcomed into the tribe.
Reid keeps the pace breezy, the emotions zigzagging; and so evocative are the visuals, that it comes as no surprise that the novel is going to be turned into a mini series. The sea, the surf and good-looking people caught up in complicated drama, it is actually perfect for the screen. That it has been on the bestseller charts for weeks can’t hurt its prospects with television viewers.
By Taylor Jenkin Reid