I'LL LET YOU GO
In previous novels, Wagner (I'm Losing You; Force Majeure) has made a reputation as a sharp-eyed registrar of Beverly Hills mores. His new novel attempts an Angelino Bleak House, describing the gulf that yawns between the ungodly rich and the ungainly poor. On his wedding night, eccentric Hollywood agent Marcus Wiener deserts his heiress bride, Katrina "Trinnie" Trotter, and apparently disappears from the face of the earth. Trinnie tells her son, Toulouse, his father is dead, but when Toulouse is 13 he finds out that isn't true. Unsurprisingly, the news comes from his nosy cousin, Lucy, who is digging around in family secrets attempting to write a detective novel. Although Toulouse and his cousins, Lucy and Edward, are children, they have the precocious manners of adults—in contrast to their wealthy parents, who exhibit the immaturity of teenagers. Meanwhile, in a shack under a freeway overpass, Will'm, a large, crazy vagrant, is trying to protect 11-year-old Amaryllis, whose crack-smoking, abusive mother has been murdered. The mystery of Wiener's disappearance and the mystery of the murder of Amaryllis's mother connect the divergent worlds of ad hoc shacks and Bel-Air mansions. This time around, Wagner's observations of L.A.'s filthy rich are curiously torpid, probing little beyond their penchant for purchasing esoteric designer labels. He's better at trawling the nightmarish shelters and abandoned buildings of the street poor. In the end, Wagner's novel is less Dickens than a knockoff of Tom Wolfe—and second-rate Wolfe at that—but the fustian language and over-the-top melodrama could translate well to the silver screen. 6-city author tour. (Jan. 9)
Forecast:L.A. readers will best appreciate this fiercely L.A.–centric novel, but the allure of the City of Angels and Wagner's ability to charm reviewers—John Updike is his most famous champion—should move a significant number of copies country-wide.