An epic tale spanning the history of a WWI–era southern California that’s later lost to the flash of Hollywood and technoburbs.
“[Nearly] everyone wanted to tell a story,” Ebershoff (The Danish Girl, 2000, etc.) tells us, “forging the past and inventing the details along the way.” A generation after the main action of the story, real-estate developer Andrew Blackwood stumbles on some California property, Condor’s Nest Ranch in Baden-Baden-by-the-Sea, in a fanciful world between San Diego and Los Angeles. Through his dealings to acquire the place, Blackwood comes upon its amazing history: it had fallen into the hands of a man named Bruder via a dying man’s will written on a battlefield in the forests of WWI France. When Bruder arrives to make his claim, it’s not clear whether the young and lovely Linda is part of the deal. The two fall in love despite the odd transaction and are soon frolicking through suggestive ice plant, discovering dead bodies on the beach, and digging up arrowheads. But Linda is “a dangerous girl” and Bruder “an unknowable man,” and their fates aren’t so easy either. A mudslide buries both, and though the lovers manage to escape, the experience splits them up. Four years pass. When Linda returns, the love is still there, but so is Rosa, the ripe child of a maid now dead. While Bruder breaks for Rosa, Linda finds herself drawn to Willis, who might have owned Condor’s Nest if not for that battlefield deal so long ago. Bruder is an avid reader and won’t talk about the war, but could he really be capable of murder? And why does Rosa, of all people, want a private meeting with Linda in Central Park? Will Linda’s testimony send an innocent man to San Quentin? And will the tale ultimately change developer Blackwood’s mind about turning the property into prefab shacks for the middle class?
Lovely, but as exhausting as exhaustive.