Taylor Jenkins Reid is good. Really good. Sentence one of page one of Malibu Rising and she’s already foreshadowing about fire. Everyone in Malibu knows fire contains many elements – both tangible and intangible – and each one appears in this book. Fire is powerful, it destroys, it allows for renewal, and it happens all the time in the town that serves as its own character. From that initial sentence the reader knows that, literally and figuratively, someone and/or something is going up in flames.
But I’m not surprised that this book is exciting and well-written. First of all, my dear friend, book guru, and pop culture fan Stephanie Peterman recommended it so I knew I would like it. Also, it’s written by the same author who wrote Daisy Jones & The Six – the book that brought me back into the world of fiction for the first time in a long time.
My review of Daisy Jones from February 2020: https://lauralieff.com/daisy-jones-the-six/
Like Daisy Jones, Malibu demonstrates Reid’s incredible ability to write about flawed people in such a way that the reader not only roots for them, but wants to know more. She creates backstories (i.e. who they are and what they are hiding) and intricately weaves in small but pertinent details (about their clothes, appearance, and even the way they walk) that are comprehensive without overdoing it. In short, the people Reid describes seem real. She also knows how to successfully jump timelines and switch perspectives at the drop of a metaphor.
While Daisy Jones is an oral history about a 1970s fictional famous rock band, Malibu is about a fictional famous family living in the 1980s. Although both books are novels, Reid’s writing style makes the reader feel like everyone actually exists. I believe that the Riva family exists and that their annual party really happens at a cliffside house in Malibu. I believe that their father is next-level famous and that he is nowhere and everywhere at the same time. And I believe that their mother did everything she could.
Reid must know that she uniquely fleshes out characters because on the copyright page of the book she states: “Malibu Rising is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” That same disclaimer appears on the copyright page of Daisy Jones.
Goodreads calls Malibu Rising historical fiction and I can’t think of a better way to describe it since some of the people named in the novel are real (for example she mentions Bruce Springsteen and members of the Brat Pack) and the way she describes Malibu in the 1980s is historically accurate. Reid did her homework.
Comprised of six people, the Riva family siblings and their parents are the central figures of the book but, as with people in real life, their environments and those who surround them contribute to who they become. Although six main characters is a lot, Reid introduces a wide array of sub-characters and somehow gets the reader to care about all of them. Usually, I feel strongly that less is more when it comes to character development specifically and writing in general, but the author does such a stellar job of describing each person named in this novel that I am already imagining the actors and actresses that will play them in a movie.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that this story is about redemption for some, tragedy for others, and the shifting dynamics that take place within families. The story also depicts how history can repeat itself, positively or negatively, and how one person can literally and figuratively set fire to everything.
“Our family histories are simply stories. They are myths we create about the people who came before us, in order to make sense of ourselves.”
“He had one of those hearts that stick to things.”
“They found the anger dissipated as they forgot to hold onto it.”
“Sometimes wild circumstances help fate unfold.”
“Our parents live inside us, whether they stick around or not.”
“And that’s exactly what they had: an electric sort of peace between them.”
“He wanted to be reeled in…He was lost in the commotion of his own heart.”
“There would be a wild and beautiful future.”
“There was finally enough air within her for a fire to ignite.”
“[He] had the gait and the fury of a man recently made aware.”
“Your whole world can be falling apart, she thought, but then Springsteen will start playing on the radio.”
“The two of them still had pockets of grief that bubbled up at inopportune moments.”
“Somehow, knowing her father wasn’t all bad made her like herself more, made her less afraid of who she might be down in the unmined depths of her heart.”
“Most good things come with a pinch or an ache.”