A novel of intricate family relationships and inheritances set in a future in which California is an independent republic following the “disbandment” of the United States.
When Elliot Temple dies at the beginning of this novel, he leaves a legacy in shambles, for it turns out he’s had five wives and 12 children, each family unit unknown to the others. When the families find out about each other, they get together to try to make sense of the situation and to protect the fragile hold they have on their individual farms. In the Republic of California, land is carefully parceled out, and control of acreage is capped. Elliot’s marital manipulations have created a valuable legacy of 100 acres and more. The story is narrated through three points of view, and while all of the narrators are Elliot’s children, each conveys a vastly different perspective. Thirteen-year-old Ellie, the first narrator, is wise beyond her years: she actively wonders how they can “begin to build a home out of so many broken pieces.” The second narrator is Elliot Jr., a nasty piece of work who tries to manipulate the land situation in his favor. Much of his section is told in flashback, and we get enough glimpses of his father to learn that dad was just as cunning, devious, and vicious as junior. Anthony, the “Mexican” son, narrates the final section. Elliot had wanted Anthony to take a DNA test to prove his paternity and earlier had threatened to kill any child that wasn’t his. The narrative becomes unbearably tense as Elliot Jr. tries to blackmail the extended families into forking over the land and thus disrupts their tenuous stability.
Vaguely dystopian though ultimately life-affirming, Valencia’s novel is an engaging examination of family dynamics and the importance of the legacy of land.