This is a story about family and celebrity, and how life can assign people roles they can’t realise, or that they can realise only by sacrificing their personal desires and aspirations.
Set primarily on a hot summer’s night in Malibu, 1983, at Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, “Malibu Rising” explores the tumultuous lives of the elder Riva child and her siblings: pro surfer Jay; surfer photographer Hud; and the youngest, Kit, who hopes to follow Jay’s path.
Their father is Mick Riva, a famous singer, who fell in love with June in the 1950s, but could never attune himself to the life of a family man. He was lured away, time and time again, returning incrementally, until he disappeared for good. June was a good mother, but unable to cope with the heartbreak, and the cold, hard reality of her life. She turned to alcohol to dull the pain, and it ended up taking everything.
After her death, Nina assumed the role of single parent and sole breadwinner. She became a surf model, selling her body to ensure the future of her family, loathing every moment of it. On the night of the party in 1983, her own relationship is breaking down, and the bonds between the siblings will be tested like never before; secrets are exposed, and long-bubbling resentments rise to the surface.
Events transpire against Taylor Jenkins Reid’s foreshadowing of doom from her opening lines — ‘Malibu catches fire. It is simply what Malibu does from time to time.’ — and her handling of multiple characters and timelines is seamless. She is a consummate storyteller.
Yes, the story machinery grinding its gears beneath the melodrama and celebrity guest stars is fairly ancient and conventional, but “Malibu Rising” is ultimately a classic family saga expounded pitch-perfectly and compulsively. The pleasures derived aren’t transcendental, but they’re genuine. And the novel does so much well for so long, it’s pat conclusion is entirely forgivable.
You know what: the Riva’s deserve it.
Published: 1st June 2021