Detective stories are staples of California literature, and Los Angeles, in particular, is one of the few major cities where noir is vibrant and almost intuitive. Think Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress (December’s CBC pick), or Denise Hamilton’s Damage Control—the list goes on and on. The beauty of this genre’s representation of intrigue, dissimulation, and duplicity is that it can be written from multiple angles, about different communities, and by anyone. Enter Nina Revoyr’s Southland—which Alta’s California Book Club will discuss at its March 18 gathering—a novel that reconfigures the L.A. noir genre by mining the histories of two very different families.
Southland follows Jackie Ishida, a twentysomething Japanese American lesbian who is determined to solve a decades-old mystery of four Black American boys found dead during the 1965 Watts Rebellion, in the freezer owned by her grandfather. The novel formally oscillates between the present day of 1994 and the early-to-mid-20th century, uncovering generations of lost, obscured, or unspoken history and ultimately illuminating the truth of the four boys’ death. When the novel was published in 2003, it was groundbreaking and named a finalist for an Edgar Award and the winner of a Lambda Literary Award.
Like many great books, Southland cannot be easily classified. It is a thriller, a gay romance, a detective story, a historical novel, and a family biography. What makes the novel particularly striking, though, is that it traces the seemingly disparate histories of two minority communities—their intersections, divergences, and parallels—and grounds us in a new understanding of U.S. history and L.A. culture. Southland asks us to consider both the price of concealed history for subsequent generations of young people and the reward for unearthing it.
To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Revoyr on March 18, click here.
Nina Revoyr talks about her favorite books, social justice work, and unwritten California narratives. Alta
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen has brought forth to the world his sophomore novel, The Committed, the highly anticipated sequel to his debut, The Sympathizer. In a book review, Vanessa Hua considers how a nation fails to grapple with its colonial past and struggles to welcome minorities. Alta
CITY LIGHTS LEGEND
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Francisco poet and cofounder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, has died at the age of 101. A few hundred people gathered to hold a vigil at Jack Kerouac Alley. Datebook
California writer Anthony Veasna So—whose debut short story collection, Afterparties, is due out in August—died late last year. Brit Bennett, Ariel Chu, Peter Blackstock, and more have written tributes in his honor. n+1
“An erasure of memory is part of how the United States constructs its national identity,” says Laila Lalami, on American mythology and citizenship. Los Angeles Review of Books
BOOKS TO TELEVISION
Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television is set to produce Walter Mosley’s widely acclaimed Easy Rawlins mystery series. Variety
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