The latest from Sallis, best known for his Lew Griffin detective series and for Drive (2006), the basis for the Ryan Gosling film of the same name.
This slim book features a rarity for Sallis, a female narrator. Abducted at 8 and confined for two years to a padlocked box beneath her captor's bed, Jenny Rowan escaped at 10 and took up residence in the Westwood Mall, where, for 18 months of scavenging and contentment, she managed to evade detection. After the legend of "Mall Girl" grew and she was discovered by a security guard, Jenny ended up in the juvenile system until she petitioned for her independence on her 16th birthday. As the novel begins, Jenny, now an adult who works as an editor for a public television station, is approached by a kindly cop who somehow knows, despite sealed records, about her history and who enlists her to give whatever advice or solace she can to a young woman who's gone through a similar ordeal. Jenny is a survivor's survivor: forthright, no-nonsense, scarred but never bowed, with great compassion but none of the illusions about human nature that sometimes accompany good-heartedness. Amid political turmoil and disaster in an imagined nearfuture, she takes in the horrifically battered young woman, aids a group of squatters, reunites (in a way) with part of her family, embarks on a romance, performs feats of footage editing, and becomes, eventually, the staggeringly unlikely confidante of the president of the United States. Loose, improvisational, not infrequently sloppy and—as the foregoing synopsis suggests—dizzyingly overloaded with plot, the novel would seem doomed, but amid the pulpy turns and the missing transitions, there's a surprising power: Jenny is an irresistible character, and there are flashes here of insight and sweetness.
The novelistic equivalent of a band jam session, with riffs well-worth listening to.