cover image Mecca


Susan Straight. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-60451-6

Straight’s ambitious return to fiction (after the memoir In the Country of Women) takes an empathetic look at members of Southern California’s Latinx community who face the dangers of fires, earthquakes, ICE raids, police brutality, and “la corona.” There’s Johnny Frias, a 40-year-old motorcycle cop who lives with the secret knowledge of the rapist he killed and buried in Bee Canyon 20 years earlier; Ximena, a young undocumented Mexican woman working as a maid at a desert spa, who comes across a newborn infant abandoned there; Merry Jordan, a neonatal nurse whose teenage son, Tenerife, lies brain dead in the hospital where she works, having been shot by a cop; Matelasse Rodrigue, a harried mother of two young children, whose husband, Reynaldo, has left them for a new life practicing capoeira; and Mrs. Bunny, a mysterious wealthy woman living in Los Angeles’s Los Feliz neighborhood, whose fate is improbably intertwined with those of Johnny and Ximena. The author’s love of the Inland Empire and its people shines through on every page, and there is a Didionesque quality to Straight’s depiction of SoCal characters living in the shadow of prejudice and poverty, but in place of Didion’s free-floating anomie there is fierce compassion. This evokes the best California fiction. (Mar.)