Stories and a novella suggest that Rifkin is what might have happened had Nathanael West lived on and been even more talented.
“Encino could be a sunny place to have fun, resembling countryside France burnished at sunset, or maybe the Midwest, the smalltown parts where kids trade baseball cards and mailmen sleep in their trucks.” Rifkin’s centerpiece is the title novella. Richard Leviton has managed to eke out a life in LA, doing a little writing, a little acting, marrying three times, and having a child, but like everyone else he’s lonely. An early-life fling with the eccentric Jaime Gorski seems innocent enough—he ignores the letters she writes him. But years later, when he follows a mysterious impulse to buy an SUV, there’s Gorski again. Leviton is reintroduced to her life, and soon enough to her confused son. Complications abound: the son, Peter, rips off the SUV and disappears, Leviton winds up having a close encounter with the kid’s girlfriend, Peter ends up working at a strip club to find himself, Jaime worries as she enters old age. But what’s notable here is the vast and random portrait of LA that emerges, seemingly picking up from where West left off in tragedy and carrying it through the subsequent meanderings of modernity. Every bit as pleasing as the plot is Rifkin’s language, full of wit, truth, and spot-on nonsequiturs. No less pleasing are the meditative shorter pieces, like “The Idols of Sickness,” a stream-of-consciousness treatment of defect starting with strung testicles and ending with an inherited modeling agency, and “After the Divorce,” a boy’s journey to see an estranged father among the star homes, a meeting bound to lead to disappointment, though someone says, “Even today, I can hold out as long as the sun is up for the story to have been about hope.”