I’ve never lived in LA (and I’ve only visited once), but somehow the city still looms large in my consciousness: the first ten minutes of just about every podcast spend time disseminating the latest LA news and some of my favourite TV shows (BoJack Horseman, Six Feet Under) are set there. Even though I consider myself an East Coast loyal and know in my bones I would hate living someplace that required me to drive everywhere, there really seems to be no other city in the world that represents the idea that anyone could make it, if they really wanted to.
But Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the Sun is set in an LA with the shine wearing off, and not too far from reality–it’s on fire. Patrick Hamlin is new in town, overseeing the movie adaptation of his novel. It’s a chaotic, unhinged version of LA, where everyone speaks in platitudes and about their projects, where influencers take selfies in front of wildfires, and the state of California is so drought-ridden that most people are now drinking WAT-R, a synthetic version sold in IKEA-esque warehouses.
And everything gets thrown even more into disarray when Patrick finds out his wife and daughter, back on the East Coast, have run away to Earthbridge, an upstate commune (or cult?) dedicated to “mourning” the world climate change is destroying. As Patrick observes the production, he starts to suspect the movie of his novel isn’t actually being made. With the movie’s disgruntled star, the washed-up child actress Cassidy Carter, in tow, the novel unfolds into a California noir edged with climate anxiety and unforgettable images.
Cassidy is easily the best character, and this is more her narrative than Patrick’s, but I like Kleeman’s approach of keeping her story filtered mostly through his perspective, understanding her life as someone raised by showbusiness. The descriptions of Cassidy’s previous roles make her sound almost hauntingly real–mentioned movies like Camp Do-What-You-Wanna and Cassie Keane, Kid Detective feel like a hazy memory, something I swore I watched some Saturday morning in my childhood.
While this book does have a plot, it’s a meandering one, with lots of pauses to set the place and do some more literary-fiction journeys into experimental prose and philosophical musings. And somehow, even when the apocalyptic setting of this book is feeling all the more recognisable, the narrative still finds a way to end on a hopeful note – a chance for redemption in the wake of our self-inflicted damage.
RATING: 4.5/5 STARS
Thanks NetGalley and 4th Estate for the ARC in exchange for my honest review. SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN is out in the UK from 19 August 2021.
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