cover image Properties of Thirst

Properties of Thirst

Marianne Wiggins. Simon & Schuster, $28 (544p) ISBN 978-1-4165-7126-1

Pulitzer Prize finalist Wiggins (Evidence of Things Unseen) returns with a powerful epic set on a Southern California ranch during WWII. Rocky Rhodes named the ranch Three Chairs, after Thoreau’s idea that three chairs are for “society”—or “company,” as Rocky puts it. A widowed scion of a wealthy family back east, he lives there with his daughter, Sunny, and his twin sister. Sunny has a twin brother, Stryker, who is presumed to have died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rocky has spent much of his fortune battling the Los Angeles Water Board, furious that the city has stolen all the local water. Things get worse when Schiff, a young lawyer from the Department of the Interior, is sent to the area to establish an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Morally outraged himself, Schiff befriends the Rhodes family and falls for Sunny, a self-taught cook who takes inspiration from notes left by her mother. Here, Wiggins’s wordplay is stellar, as when the properties of a souffle become metaphor for the emotions of those about to eat it: “Sunny folded one thing—the inflated egg whites—into the other, le fond—with the greatest care, aware of both their fragile properties.” The dialogue is full of grit, and Wiggins manages to capture a big swath of mid-century America by placing a blue-blooded family into a desert inland complete with adobe haciendas, desert blooms, and Hollywood movie sets, while throughout, the Rhodes hold out hope for Stryker’s survival. Wiggins’s masterpiece is one for the ages. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Aug.)