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THE RUINS OF CALIFORNIA by Martha Sherrill Kirkus Star


by Martha Sherrill

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 2006
ISBN: 1-59420-080-7
Publisher: Penguin Press

Family saga that rises above the limits of that genre.

Inez Ruin, daughter of an erstwhile flamenco dancer and a university professor, traces her family relationships from grade school to college. As the story opens, it’s the late ’60s, and precocious Inez is taking stock of the important people in her life. Her brilliant, charismatic and needy father is at the top of her list. Although she doesn’t live with him, his constant letters, his string of beautiful girlfriends and his wealthy family tantalize Inez, especially because her mother seems dedicated to providing Inez with a sanitized and boring suburban life. Although her father’s egotism can be overpowering, his non-conformity, evident in everything from his taste in drugs to his San Francisco house, promises escape from the blandness of her school and her friends. Inez matures into a thoughtful young woman who observes the world closely, keeping an especially close watch on the people she loves. Eventually, she sees that her father and her half-brother Whitman’s freedom is a version of self-destructiveness, and she steps in to repair their small family. Especially noteworthy among the many pleasures of this novel is the finely drawn character of Inez, whose emotional development over the years is subtly reflected in her changing assessments of the world. Sherrill (My Last Movie Star, 2003, etc.) ably captures the milieux of the ’70s and ’80s without seeming to reach for details. Her depiction of those decades—their fads, their politics, their slang, their colors and foods—is both masterful and unassuming.

Technically perfect characterization in a tale that explores an imperfect family.