Welcome to the sprawling streets of Los Angeles, where celebrity sightings are commonplace—at least in some communities on the Westside—and homeless encampments maintain a presence just about everywhere else. We may not be as compact as our tech-haven sister to the north or our great and gritty counterpart on that other “elite” coast, but we’ve grown in style and savvy over the years, so that—even in this treacherous era of climate change—our marvelous weather is no longer our sole enticement to curious visitors and eager transplants.
As a native Angelena, I take great delight in the rich diversity of my community, where ninety-two languages other than English are spoken in our public schools; where grace and beauty beguile the senses, from the ancient treasures of Malibu’s Getty Villa to the acoustically soaring Walt Disney Hall on Grand Avenue; and where you can dine on some of the best dim sum, pad thai, pho, tacos and burritos, thin crust pizza, and churresco in the world. Not to mention multiple versions of spicy doro wat available on the lively block of Little Ethiopia not far from where I work and live.
Los Angeles is a character in her own right in my new novel Chasing Eve. Her ubiquitous traffic hums in regulated spurts; her police helicopters burst noisily into sleepers’ dreams; and her famed beaches attract world class surfers, enthusiastic volleyball players, and dermatologist-defying sun bathers. Alas, she’s not nearly as welcoming to those living in what one of the book’s characters calls “the dark part of town,” and underneath her asphalt surfaces, she shimmies and shakes every once in a while, forcing her denizens to literally dance to new tunes.
Chasing Eve’s City of Angels also hosts a few surprises for an eclectic group of strangers who find themselves literally thrown together one scorching summer night. A search for the fossil remains of what might be the ancestress of everyone alive today leads to a dramatic interweaving of the destinies of the novel’s eccentric cast of characters—a self-deprecating mail carrier whose bawdy humor belies a sweetly sensitive soul, an unusually earnest not-so-working-actor, a shy teenager fleeing sexual abuse, a heart-stealing homeless alcoholic, a lonely old woman whose imagination leans toward the catastrophic, a gorgeous refugee from the PR wars, a dope-smoking college administrator undergoing a midlife crisis, an ER doctor lusting after his old babysitter, and a nearly blind cat—can I ever write a novel that doesn’t feature a cat?—who keeps her disheartened mistress from giving up the ghost once and for all.
I suppose you could say the novel is about change, about invisibility, about defying fate, and breaking through despair. But I think of it more broadly as a polyphonic adventure/romance that plumbs the rejection of the feminine and explores glaring inequities and deeper synchronicities amid the racial, sexual, religious, and gender diversity of L.A.
While this book is quite a departure from The Fleur Trilogy, it evokes at least some of its themes, particularly the Indra’s Web of connection that unites us all. In the year since the publication of Return of the Butterfly, I’ve been playing with Chasing Eve’s characters, who’ve had much to offer me in these dark times. As I comment at the end of the novel: “If there ever was a time when we as a species needed to acknowledge our kinship with one another, it’s now. In this book, I’ve hoped to convey how the lives of strangers intersect with our own in ways both known and unknown to us. Characters are often a novelist’s greatest teachers; Ariel and her companions have reminded me that, while we’re each solo acts in so many ways, we’re deeply connected at the root and down to the bone.”