We must briefly remember Tolstoy: indeed, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. As it follows, for many novels, writing about family makes for great drama, and in crime fiction, where the stakes tend to be higher, family offers abundant material for thinking about loyalty, love, dissimulation, intrigue, and betrayal. In other words, it’s all risky business. Nina Revoyr’s highly acclaimed novel Southland—which Alta’s California Book Club will discuss at its March 18 gathering—is a case in point.
Southland is a captivating and capacious novel that follows law student Jackie Ishida as she endeavors to uncover who murdered four Black American boys found dead following Los Angeles’s 1965 Watts Rebellion, in a freezer owned by her grandfather. Though the novel primarily takes place in 1994, we are narrated the vast histories of two seemingly disparate families—Black American and Japanese American—which unfold over three generations. Working alongside the cousin of one of the boys, James Lanier, Jackie slowly unearths the truth about her family and, in the process, embarks on her own journey of self-discovery.
What makes Southland such a standout novel is how it explores the delicate and tenuous bonds within and between families, along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Family is crucial in this narrative because it becomes the means through which Jackie understands herself and develops a sense of belonging, connection, and community. Family is also how we come to understand history and the tensions between the individual and the forces of time and space that are beyond our control.
When we read of families, we come to these narratives already imbued with tropes of drama (like the one with which I introduced this newsletter) and the anticipation of inevitable transgression. But we must also be aware that these families present opportunities for healing, reconciliation, and growth.
To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Revoyr on March 18, click here.
CALI CRIME FICTION
Have you been enjoying Southland? Do you want to read more California crime fiction? Here are eight titles that pair well with Revoyr’s highly celebrated novel. Alta
ECHOES OF HISTORY
Revoyr’s Southland is rich with historical events. Let’s take a look at why they’re so important. Alta
Carol Edgarian’s latest novel, Vera, follows its eponymous protagonist as she wades through the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In a book review, Heather Scott Partington considers how Edgarian “contends elegantly and meticulously with historical detail.” Alta
Perhaps the thought of surviving two catastrophes during the 1900s in San Francisco has never crossed your mind. Join novelist Edgarian as she discusses her literary inspirations and answers your questions. Alta Live
On February 24, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti honored Lynne Thompson, the city’s new poet laureate. CBS Los Angeles
CBC selection panel member Lynell George describes how Black Angelenos helped shape the sociocultural landscape of the city. LAist
L.A. TIMES BOOK PRIZES
Last week, the finalists for the 41st Los Angeles Times Book Prizes were announced, along with the winners in three special categories. Los Angeles Times
Did you know there was a time when Lawrence Ferlinghetti defended a memorial tribute to Allen Ginsberg? Literary Hub
FERLINGHETTI IN THE 1950s
Poet Gary Snyder recalls his friendship with Ferlinghetti in this heartfelt elegy. Alta
LOS ANGELES REIMAGINED
Peter Lunenfeld’s City at the Edge of Forever charts the rise of Los Angeles as a supercity. In a review, Alta contributor William Deverell considers the city as a site of perpetual reinvention. Los Angeles Review of Books
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