cover image Wonders of the West

Wonders of the West

Kate Braverman. Fawcett Books, $20 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90656-9

The accomplished Braverman's ( Palm Latitudes ) latest work seems destined to draw unfavorable comparisons with Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here . Like Simpson's novel, it concerns a girl whose feckless young mother uproots them both to California in search of fame and fortune; however, Braverman's plotting is stale and heavy-handed. Jordan is only 10 when Roxanne (nee Ruth) plans their escape from a middle-class existence in 1960s New Jersey, choosing her brother Louie's home in Los Angeles as a destination. The car trip bodes ill--Roxanne is forced to pawn her possessions when she can't locate her targeted hosts along the way; Roxanne and Jordan are reduced to sleeping in their car; the eponymous Wonders of the West, billed as a tourist attraction, is a thudding letdown. Braverman splices scenes from this trip into Jordan's account of her senior year in an L.A. high school, where she is flunking five subjects despite her 157 IQ, while Roxanne, now posing as Jordan's sister, scrounges for movie studio work and hunts for a sugar daddy. Louie and his wife have indeed taken them in, but Louie is ill with cancer and their apartment is part of a depressing complex reserved for hospital patients and their families. Braverman's prose style is characteristically incisive and her observations both witty and unsparing, but these talents barely justify this sadly predictable excursion. (Jan.)