[Possible spoilers ahead.]
Celebrities’ lives are always beyond what we can even begin to comprehend. What we see in the media is such a small fragment of what their lives actually are like. The pressure to perform, to look good, to have that perfect balance or at least look like it – all this, while staying true to themselves is one that simmers under their smiling, picture-perfect facades. And there’s one author – among the many, I’m sure, but my favorite of them – who does it amazingly well: Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Taylor Jenkins Reid (or TJR) is known for books that delve deep into fictional celebrities’ lives and bring out their realities. And more often than not, these realities are such resounding reflections of real life that it becomes difficult to tell which of her celebrities is real and which fictional. That’s what happened to me with Daisy Jones & the Six. TJR’s writing felt so real to me that even halfway through the book, I was doubting whether the band existed in real life or not.
But it was The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo that had the biggest impact on me, so much so that it became one of my favorite books of all time and TJR became one of my favorite authors of all time. I’ve done a full vlog on it too. (Watch here: TMB on The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.) I’ll now compare every TJR book and the effect it has on me to Evelyn Hugo. I know it isn’t fair, but it is what it is.
Now, Malibu Rising, the book that I saw come out after I read Evelyn Hugo, evoked a rabid excitement in me. But as you might know the workings of my mind, I only got around to it pretty recently. And the question that plagued me for days after I finished the book was: Did it live up to the hype that I built up around it over all these months?
And after a lot of thinking, I realized that it’s nowhere close to Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones, or even Evidence of the Affair, and I know that my issues with the book run deeper than that.
Set in 1983 and moving back and forth in time, Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the story of the Riva siblings and their mother, June. If you’ve read Evelyn Hugo, you’ll find the name Mick Riva (the father here) familiar because he makes an appearance there as one of Evelyn Hugo’s seven husbands. Here, we see his rise to stardom and his ‘family’ life. Quick note: Mick Riva is the kind of ‘star’ who makes you think, ‘If being a star means being this kind of a person, then I don’t want to be a star.’ I mean, he is rotten as a person himself, but the stardom just piles on.
Okay back to the story: Nina Riva is the oldest Riva sibling, a surfer model who is almost as famous as her singer father. She is the one who has held her family together, the anchor, the Rivas’ hearth. The Rivas, who are now famous public figures, are considered top tier celebrities, celeb royalty if you will, and their annual end-of-summer party is a place where everyone in Malibu wants to be.
This year (1983), the party looms, none of them having any idea of what it’s about to bring to them. Secrets that threaten to tear the siblings apart are about to come tumbling out. Ugly facets of the past are about to rear their head. The past, the present, and the future are all about to clash in ways they didn’t think were possible and they’re going to question everything they know. When confronted with all of this, what choices will they make? And will they still have each other at the end of it all?
Now, I knew the story was about celebrities and their lives, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. I love stories that examine the underbelly of what’s visible to us. And Malibu Rising, from what I’ve described above, might seem like a rather ‘innocent’ historical Hollywood tale (it pains my millennial brain to say historical because it’s only set in 1983, but it’s true). But there are so many elements, so many characters – starting with Mick Riva and filtering down to a bunch of unknown elitist snobs – who will make your blood boil. It’s either through their ideologies or through their actions or even worse – a thorough, self-righteous combination of both!
However, it isn’t the characters being the way they are that bothers me, because we know that to any story and its conflict, we need bad characters or morally grey characters to push the story forward. These characters could do anything, be it theft or infidelity or straight up murder. But what we as readers look for is a character arc, a comeuppance of sorts. They don’t necessarily have to be redeemed, because we know that not all bad ones have the capacity to walk towards that goal. The point here is to show the consequences of their actions. To show that there’s going to be something about to bite that character’s ass because they did something wrong.
So when infidelity – something that I loathe people for doing – doesn’t get its comeuppance, it leaves a bad taste behind. Malibu Rising did that. The story drags and drags like a rubberband with unlimited elasticity, only to snap back into the face of the reader, leaving us hurt and betrayed. Of course, we can’t expect bad things not to happen to good people. That’s not how the world works. History has shown this to us time and time again. It’s about having the comeuppance, but too little too late. Stark reminders in literature can awaken you to the real world and prepare you for it, but if it does it in a manner that makes you lose faith in humanity, then it merely drains the life out of you.
This is why I was fuming by the time the book ended, partly because I had set up great expectations from the story. But also because by the time it gets to the point and does anything about these tracks, it has meandered so much, wanders so much away from the main characters in trying to tell the story from ‘different perspectives’, that it becomes difficult after a point to keep up with who is telling the story. It falls to the reader to try and understand how the person telling the story at any particular point is relevant to whatever is going on in the Rivas’ lives. In hindsight, I know what the book set out to do and I know that it achieved it to a certain extent. But it just fell short.
The biggest annoyance I have, however, is the fact that the men in this book think it’s okay to treat women the way they do. Now, I know the time it was set in, I know the way people’s priorities and perspectives on life can get distorted, how their morals can get wrangled beyond recognition etc. etc. etc. Yet, the men in the lives of the main women are such crappy humans that it makes for a long, very frustrating experience. Plus, their hurtful actions that they do repeatedly on purpose tired me out. I get it. I get that it is difficult to break the cycle but that is no excuse! COME ON!
At the end of it all, I just wished there was more nuance to the story than ‘they are celebrities and have layered lives’. I know they have layered lives. That’s what I want to read about – the layers. All there was in this story was: a-hole dude effs up, apologizes, effs up, apologizes, effs up, apologizes! Each time, he expects people to forgive him and acts as if he has gone through immeasurable pain, as if he hasn’t been the douche to have inflicted that pain on people and then ‘reap the benefits’ of it, if that’s what you can call it.
Funny thing is, despite all these complaints, I still see the point. I still like TJR’s writing, despite it being so roundabout in this book. Because there’s a compassion to it – a raw, truthful compassion that is hard to find elsewhere. The problems I have with it are still there, though. Which is why I was so conflicted that it took me weeks to write this review. I still am and I don’t think it will ever fade. As long as I live and whenever I bring this book to mind, the conflict will always rear its head.
So that was me talking about Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. What did you think of this book? Did you like it? Did you not like it? What did you think of my review? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you! 😊
I’ll see you in the next blog post.
Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life! 😊