One sunny morning in 2010, a man streaks—quite literally—against morning drive-time traffic on Los Angeles’ 110 Freeway, the gray scar etched into the left side of the city’s face. Talk about a Kodak moment, and it’s witnessed by multiple characters in the latest novel by Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing, Visitation Street), who then backtracks from this freeze frame to uncover the forces that have impelled these human molecules to coagulate in this space.
Toggling back and forth between 2006 and 2010, Pochoda tugs on each character’s strand, disentangling it from the knot of LA traffic and the knot of interconnection to reveal a tapestry that is more gritty than pretty. It spans a landscape that stretches from the upper-middle class to the destitute, from Skid Row tents and Beverlywood McMansions to desiccated cabins in the high desert’s dystopian Wonder Valley.
We encounter good people who have done bad things, bad people who have done bad things (but occasionally can’t help doing good, if perhaps accidentally) and a whole bunch of folks looking for, if not necessarily redemption, at least a moment of grace. Pochoda is a master at homing in on the details of both exterior and interior landscapes and crafting characters so palpable that you can feel blood throbbing in their temples and rivulets of sweat evaporating off their necks.
It’s not a far stretch to consider Pochoda to be in the company of James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker, but the two novelists that most often leap to mind as peers are Walter Mosley and National Book Award finalist Kem Nunn. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to find Wonder Valley on the short list for several awards itself.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Ivy Pochoda for Wonder Valley.
Thane Tierney lives in Inglewood, California, and spent several years commuting daily on the 110 from his home in Inglewood to his office at Warner Bros. Records in Burbank. He never saw a naked guy jogging on it.