California dreaming turns into a living nightmare in Liska Jacobs’ dark and electrifying debut novel, Catalina.
When Elsa Fisher is fired from her job as an assistant at MoMA (where she also just happened to be having an affair with her very married boss), she pushes the eject button on her crumbling life in New York and flees to her sunny Southern California home. There, she soon learns that the old adage “wherever you go, there you are” proves to be infuriatingly true: Despite the change in location and the self-medication via a constant stream of benzodiazepines (stolen from her mother) and copious amounts of alcohol (paid for with her rapidly dwindling severance package), Elsa can’t seem to fully escape her demons or permanently dull the pain of her present predicament. Instead, she decides to fully commit to her downward spiral, consequences be damned. Wondering just how far she can fall, Elsa embarks with a group of old friends on a hedonistic trip to Catalina island, where she discovers just how dark rock bottom can be and her self-destructive spree risks ruining more lives than just her own.
Rich with a prickling sense of menace, Catalina is an intoxicating psychological thriller that will set readers on edge from page one. As we follow our pill-popping antiheroine on her bad-behavior bender, Jacobs adeptly infuses the narrative with a mounting sense of unease and apprehension as Elsa’s barely contained rage and resentment becomes ever more apparent and her actions become increasingly erratic. It’s clear from the start that Catalina isn’t a fairy tale and there will be no happy ending, yet Elsa’s ultimate unraveling—as she is taken from breaking point to broken—still manages to feel astonishing and devastating. Although Elsa’s ultimate goal seems to be to numb her feelings, Jacobs has produced a book that achieves exactly the opposite: It provokes and perturbs, and will leave its readers incredibly unsettled.