Wonder Valley

Everybody's on the run from something in Ivy Pochoda's third novel, Wonder Valley, which features a broad cast of Southern California criminals, deadbeats, dreamers and frustrated never-quite-making-it professionals. Pochoda (Visitation Street) unfolds their stories one by one. There's the Beverlywood two-bit studio lawyer Tony, who left his white-shoe Chicago firm to escape a scandal. A young gangbanger wannabe from Brooklyn, Ren is searching L.A. for the mother who abandoned him during his five years in juvie. Britt is a USC full-scholarship tennis jock who took off after a drunken Laurel Canyon car crash. A couple of hard-time criminals are trying to duck the cops after an armed robbery in Vegas. And twin teens Owen and James are adrift in the city following their escape from their parents' Howling Tree Ranch, a chicken farm/commune in the desert outside Twentynine Palms.

Pochoda smoothly and deliberately moves the story of her gritty troupe between events in 2006 and 2010. Her eye for detail rarely misses a thing. Across the four years of the novel, her troubled characters try to shake off the mistakes and misfortune of their pasts and make something new of their lives.

Wonder Valley is not exactly a crime novel, although there are plenty of criminals and crimes. There is no mystery to solve. However, as Pochoda gradually ties up her not-so-loose ends, it becomes a novel of the quest for connection, redemption and ultimately release. In short, it's about escaping demons and reshaping lives. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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