Southern California is See's home ground, and the skewering of its denizens' lifestyles her specialty (Golden Days, 1986), but, here, she breaks away with a vengeance, moving confidently into the world of international finance, pushing out to Japan and points west, letting dead men talk, and staining her home ground blood- red. The male voices are the first surprise, two very different males, polar opposites: Robin, a young beach-bum for whom life is having fun, and Jerry Bridges, a wealthy, middle-aged financier. Jerry loves money and the Orient; he is every bit as robust, and convincing, as Tom Wolfe's Sherman McCoy. We'll see him in action, in Tokyo to launch an American-Japanese co-venture; later on, prospecting along the Pacific Rim for a site for his ``twenty-first century city-state.'' Back home, he is king in his plush Pacific Palisades sanctuary, with the perfect (second) wife, Wynn, adorable little Josh and Tina, and a gorgeous teenage stepdaughter in Whitney (his coolness toward her masks a fierce physical desire). For Wynn, too, their home is a sanctuary, for she has moved up (and how!) from the ``dead, dank, rented bottom of the San Fernando Valley''; and, besides, Jerry is a kind man, a good man, even if forgetful of family occasions. Unfortunately, there are no sanctuaries; life is brittle, even in Pacific Palisades, for Whitney is injured in an auto accident and the driver (sweet, clowning Robin) is killed. Whitney heals, plunges back into life, loses her virginity on a Maui beach, only to die some months later, along with little Josh and 13 others, in a fiery multi-vehicle horror. Wynn has a breakdown, and Jerry (one of life's innocents, who has never seen a person die) is no help at all. Observing all this mayhem from his perch in an afterlife ruled by Buddha and Kali, Robin sends out his own delicate vibrations. See is wrestling with an old dilemma: How do you admit life's random violence into your fictional world without wrecking it? She is also (through a secondary, parallel story involving an English clairvoyant) suggesting the connectedness of all human lives. The result is flawed but fascinating: a novel that just radiates energy and marks a major step forward for this author.
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