The Girls From Corona del Mar

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Al­fred A. Knopf, 242 pages by Rufi Thorpe,

In fe­male friend­ships — es­pe­cially those between girls as they ma­ture — the halves of such pairs are of­ten con­sid­ered in con­trast to one an­other. One is “the pretty one” and one is “the smart one.” Or one is “wild” while the other is “re­spon­si­ble.” Whether or not th­ese de­scrip­tors are ac­cu­rate for ei­ther girl — es­pe­cially over the long march of time — doesn’t mat­ter. Be­liefs about who we are get etched into our con­scious­ness, and they can blind us to the truth of who we be­come or who we have been all along.

In Rufi Thorpe’s ex­cel­lent de­but novel, Mia is the awk­ward one; the head­strong, care­less one; the one whose mother is drunk and whose step­fa­ther is a cal­lous jerk. Her best friend, Lor­rie Ann, is beau­ti­ful, thought­ful, serene, and, though not fi­nan­cially se­cure, loved in­tensely by her close-knit fam­ily. As the two grow up to­gether in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Mia is en­vi­ous of the ease with which Lor­rie Ann seems to ex­ist, while her own life is rife with bur­dens. But all is not as it seems. Nar­rated by

Mia, The Girls From Corona

del Mar tracks what she sees, knows, and tries to un­der­stand about Lor­rie Ann’s life as they grad­u­ate from high school and go their sep­a­rate ways, car­ry­ing on a long- dis­tance friend­ship as best they can.

Mia crosses the coun­try for col­lege, while Lor­rie Ann de­cides to marry her high school sweet­heart be­cause she is preg­nant. The de­liv­ery goes awry, and the baby is born dis­abled. This is one in a se­ries of tragedies that be­fall Mia’s hereto­fore graced friend, while Mia dis­cov­ers a pas­sion for Sume­rian po­etry and the world of academia and finds her­self eas­ily part­nered with Franklin, a man who shares her in­ter­ests. When­ever Lor­rie Ann calls, Mia tries to be a good friend to her, which be­comes more dif­fi­cult when Mia moves to Tur­key for her re­search. For a long time, Mia be­lieves that Lor­rie Ann is em­brac­ing a more dan­ger­ous life­style due to ex­ter­nal cir­cum­stances that have trau­ma­tized her, but even­tu­ally she has to face the pos­si­bil­ity that she never re­ally knew her friend as well as she thought she did, which means she might not know her­self as well as she thinks she does.

Mia’s voice is in­ter­est­ing in its un­even­ness. She is both the kind of per­son who would break her own toe to make a crit­i­cal lie more con­vinc­ing and the kind of per­son whose pow­ers of de­scrip­tion verge on the lyrical, al­most the sen­ti­men­tal. For most of the book, she con­sid­ers her­self to be the for­mer kind of per­son — cold, hard, des­per­ate — be­cause of a cou­ple of dark acts she com­mit­ted when she was grow­ing up. As Lor­rie Ann re­veals her­self to be colder, harder, and more des­per­ate than Mia has ever en­vi­sioned her­self to be, Mia can rec­on­cile be­ing more than the choices she made un­der duress be­fore she was old enough to have bet­ter con­trol of that duress. Thorpe’s prose some­times height­ens it­self into pur­ple, but th­ese mo­ments of waxing po­etic have their own en­ergy, which echoes the ebb and flow of Mia’s un­der­stand­ing.

Thorpe ex­plores the dif­fer­ence between be­ing dam­aged and be­ing ru­ined — against a back­drop that is in­creas­ingly heady. Mia gets deeper into trans­la­tions of po­etry about the god­dess Inanna and be­gins to con­sider her life in the con­text of an­cient metaphors for love. Lor­rie Ann, once con­sid­ered just as in­tel­li­gent as her friend, feels left be­hind when con­ver­sa­tions take an in­tel­lec­tual turn, and there is a sense that she is al­most a car­i­ca­ture of an un­e­d­u­cated per­son who mar­ried too young — be­fore we are re­minded that get­ting mar­ried and having a baby was a choice she made. The other op­tion, which would have been to get an abor­tion and go away to col­lege as she’d planned, is pre­sented un­equiv­o­cally by Mia as the choice she didn’t make, the choice that would un­doubt­edly have al­tered the course of the next decade.

“I wanted to slap her,” Mia says. “It was al­most as though she were play­ing dumb, ex­ag­ger­at­ing her own Cal­i­for­nia val­ley-girl ca­dences … her protes­ta­tions of ig­no­rance rang false with me, and I could only as­sume they were de­signed ei­ther to flat­ter Franklin or to in­jure me in some way, to lure me into be­ing some kind of pre­ten­tious pedant as an ob­scure pun­ish­ment.”

Mia’s con­cern for Lor­rie Ann may be mis­placed. Is Mia a car­ing life­long friend, or is she over­bear­ing — pry­ing into things that are none of her busi­ness? When your best friend seems to be pur­posely jump­ing off a bridge, does it make you “judg­men­tal” if you ex­press dis­may and try to talk her down off the rail­ing? Thorpe asks what hap­pens to the peo­ple we used to know when we stop know­ing them — and what hap­pens to us.

— Jen­nifer Levin

Some­times the most grip­ping tales aren’t steeped in es­pi­onage or set in far­away lands. Familiar char­ac­ters don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to be house­hold names plucked from his­tory books. The beauty of Owen’s Daugh­ter, the 12th and lat­est novel by Santa Fe’s own Jo-Ann Map­son, is the re­al­is­tic pathos of the hu­man con­di­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by char­ac­ters who could live right next door. If you’re hu­man, you can’t help but re­late to it.

What could be more sus­pense­ful than par­ent-child re­la­tion­ships, lifechang­ing health con­di­tions, frag­ile or bro­ken love con­nec­tions, and the steep climb out of the abyss of ad­dic­tion? Th­ese tra­vails, set against a Santa Fe back­drop so vivid that the city be­comes a mood in­stead of a star on a map, be­siege char­ac­ters so rich and well de­vel­oped that the reader can vi­su­al­ize each one. The ca­dence of each voice and the pos­ture each per­son would strike walk­ing into or out of a room take shape quickly, thanks to Map­son’s thrifty tone.

Map­son in­tro­duces us to Skye El­liot as she’s about to exit re­hab, bit­ter and still crav­ing booze and pills but de­ter­mined to re­claim her 4-year-old daugh­ter, Grace. Find­ing Grace proves ar­du­ous, as her rodeo-cow­boy daddy, Skye’s es­tranged hus­band, has seem­ingly van­ished with her. En­ter an­other cow­boy daddy — Skye’s fa­ther, Owen Gar­rett. Af­ter years of ab­sence from Skye’s life, he shows up on horse­back to whisk his daugh­ter away from re­hab. Through­out their years of dis­tance, fa­ther and daugh­ter have trav­eled par­al­lel tracks. Both have strug­gled with al­co­holism that has at times landed them in trou­ble with the law. Both have changed their names, hop­ing to rein­vent them­selves and leave be­hind who they once were. And both har­bor an en­dur­ing love of horses. To­gether they bunk down at a va­cant Canyon Road home that be­longs to Skye’s mother and Owen’s ex-wife, self-ab­sorbed Sheila. She sel­dom oc­cu­pies the house, jet-set­ting in­stead with her plas­tic-sur­geon hus­band.

Tu­mult fol­lows Mar­garet Year­wood, a 50-year-old di­vor­cée still haunted by her love for none other than Owen, who dis­ap­peared from her life a decade be­fore with lit­tle warn­ing. Mar­garet en­dures the death of the ag­ing aunt she has cared for, cat­a­strophic news about her own health, and the un­ex­pected re­turn of her petu­lant deaf son, Peter, a 20-some­thing whose mar­riage is in sham­bles.

Skye’s quest to find Grace, and Owen’s push to find a job work­ing with horses so he can help bankroll the search, leads to Mar­garet’s neigh­bors Glory and Joe Vigil. That con­nec­tion and a chance en­counter with Peter bring Owen and Mar­garet (whose torrid af­fair was the sub­ject of Map­son’s novel Blue Rodeo) back to each other. They re­unite ro­man­ti­cally, to the cha­grin of Peter and the de­light of Skye. Af­ter ex­plain­ing his dis­ap­pear­ance a decade ear­lier — a prison stretch for his role in a vi­o­lent fight — Owen quickly reawak­ens the pas­sion that he and Mar­garet never let die.

An ap­pari­tion that could re­side al­most any­where in this 400-year-old town ob­serves the whole story as it un­folds, but her pres­ence in the book is sparse enough to keep the plot largely be­liev­able. The au­thor treats us to a few un­pre­dictable plot twists in the home­stretch, but the true ap­peal of

Owen’s Daugh­ter lies in the shared ex­pe­ri­ence — or po­ten­tial for it — that re­sides within us all.

For read­ers familiar with Santa Fe, it holds a bonus. They’ll rec­og­nize lo­cal haunts and their dis­tinc­tive fla­vors — even a few peo­ple, from con­cho-belted so­cialites to plain-spo­ken va­que­ros and families with cen­turies of roots here. To­gether, th­ese el­e­ments give read­ers who know our city the sense that Map­son is whis­per­ing a se­cret in their ears.

— Pa­trick Malone

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