When a teen runs away from his father’s mysterious commune, he sets in motion a domino effect that will connect six characters desperate for hope and love, set across the sun-bleached canvas of Los Angeles.
From the acclaimed author of Visitation Street, a visionary portrait of contemporary Los Angeles in all its facets, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific, from the 110 to Skid Row.
During a typically crowded morning commute, a naked runner is dodging between the stalled cars. The strange sight makes the local news and captures the imaginations of a stunning cast of misfits and lost souls.
There’s Ren, just out of juvie, who travels to LA in search of his mother. There’s Owen and James, teenage twins who live in a desert commune, where their father, a self-proclaimed healer, holds a powerful sway over his disciples. There’s Britt, who shows up at the commune harboring a dark secret. There’s Tony, a bored and unhappy lawyer who is inspired by the runner. And there’s Blake, a drifter hiding in the desert, doing his best to fight off his most violent instincts. Their lives will all intertwine and come crashing together in a shocking way, one that could only happen in this enchanting, dangerous city.
My Thoughts: In the present day, Wonder Valley begins with a typical LA commute that suddenly is no longer typical. A naked man is running against traffic and capturing the notice, the videos, and the imagination of a cast of characters whose lives will intersect over the next few days.
Back and forth in time we go, from 2006 to 2010, and we see into the lives of the characters who will all come together at moments in time.
A commune in the desert, in 2006, will be where Britt, the Flynn twins, several other lost souls, a man named Blake, and his ailing friend Sam will all connect. Before Blake and Sam arrive, however, we will join the group around the fire for their “sharing” moments, led by a man named Patrick. We will be reminded of the communes of the past, and even a little bit of a family named Manson. However, these members are not killing people…just each other with their angry and hostile confrontations in the name of therapy.
Fast forward to the commute, and we meet Tony, driving along the freeway, mourning his past mistakes and captivated by the naked runner. Something about the freedom of these moments leads to several detours he might otherwise not have made.
Ren has just been released from juvie…and he is looking for his mother, Laila. What he discovers is a camp of street dwellers and his mother…nothing like she once was.
We see the hard-edged grit of street life; the criminal element that includes people just struggling to make it; and the clash between the haves and the have-nots.
Can each of these characters find something valuable in these moments of connection? How will their journeys end? An enticing tale of connections, this story, with the back and forth pattern, was sometimes confusing. In the end, it all came together in the form of a mural captured by Ren, who memorialized the discoveries. 4.5 stars.