HERE at The Misread City, we try to capture what makes Los Angeles and the West Coast distinct, and aim to look at the way the existing clichés – sun, vapidity, bottomless riches -- both inform and distort our lives here.
I can’t think of a better example of this kind of thing than the new essay by Eric Puchner, an Angeleno short story writer and novelis. His new piece in the March GQ, “Schemes of My Father,” is hilarious and heartbreaking.
Puchner’s novel, Model Home, was just named a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner award. I spoke to him about the novel here. (He's up against one of our favorite recent novels, Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, some of which is set in California.) Eric talks about Model Home and its relationship to SoCal above.
Back to “Schemes of My Father,” about a charming dreamer who lured his family west: The piece -- read it here -- starts with his family’s move to California:
I don't think I realized how rich we'd become until the moment we pulled up to the entrance of Rolling Hills and the man in the little guardhouse actually tipped his cap. The gate lifted, ushering us into someone's vision of paradise. By "someone's" I guess I mean my father's. There were horse trails and faux hacienda signs and old wagon wheels sitting in people's yards in islands of unmown grass, like the Hollywood back lot for some Waspy New England burg. And yet it was Californian through and through, the ranch-style homes as flat and gargantuan as UFOs. We slowed down to pass a group of horseback riders in skintight pants, and even the manure plopping from their horses seemed expensive to me, better smelling than the dogshit smearing our sidewalk in Baltimore.
The piece develops quite beautifully, looking at the sense of pleasure and possibility that Southern California offers, and contrasting it with the state’s current crisis and deeper rooted problems. “But the truth is, there've always been two Golden States: the one we yearn for and the one that most Californians wake up to every morning.”
I could go on quoting from this excellent piece -- which takes a dark turn partway through -- but you should read it yourself. We’ve enjoyed Puchner’s writing for a long time now, but this takes it to a new level of wit and poignancy. We’d love to see a smart publisher push him into a memoir.