From the opening scene in which an earthquake shakes Los Angeles, Brown’s tart second novel (All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, 2008), about a pair of hip Californians facing financial and marital collapse, couldn’t be more timely.
Rising filmmaker Claudia and indie rock star Jeremy married and bought their 1,300-square-foot bungalow for $600,000 during the height of the housing bubble. With a big movie contract pending for Claudia and an album deal in the works for Jeremy, the couple plans to be out from under the increasingly steep interest-only mortgage payments soon. Unfortunately, after a film Claudia’s written and directed tanks at the box office, her new contract dries up while Jeremy’s band dissolves before finishing an album. Moreover, Jeremy has not paid the mortgage for several months and now the bank won’t renegotiate the loan. As the possibility of losing the house looms, cracks appear in the marriage. Responsible, hardworking Claudia’s more conventional side emerges; desperate to keep the house, she takes a job teaching film at a private high school. Jeremy, who works fitfully as a T-shirt designer and takes pride in his bohemianism, which borders on irresponsibility, was already chafing at the demands of the house when the mortgage crisis arose. Before he met Claudia, he had been a music/art world darling in New York, the lover and muse of a now world-famous artist named Aoki. One of her paintings of him hangs in the bungalow, and he refuses Claudia’s request to sell it despite the needed cash it would bring. Instead they take in a tenant who sets the house on fire. By then Aoki, emotionally unstable but still alluring, has shown up to tempt Jeremy away from his marriage. A desperate Claudia is engaging in her own moral capitulation—falsifying a student’s grades to get a lucrative film deal from the girl’s father.
The phony happy ending mars what is for the most part a cringingly funny satire of love and money among the artsy class.