California's Over

California's Over

by Louis B. Jones
     
 

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California's Over leads us down an unmarked road to the coast and then deep into the rotten, labyrinthine house where James Farmican, the famous poet, shot himself to death years ago, leaving behind a legacy of adulation and bankruptcy. Now his family is leaving, and the young narrator—who calls himself Baelthon—has been hired to haul the furniture

Overview

California's Over leads us down an unmarked road to the coast and then deep into the rotten, labyrinthine house where James Farmican, the famous poet, shot himself to death years ago, leaving behind a legacy of adulation and bankruptcy. Now his family is leaving, and the young narrator—who calls himself Baelthon—has been hired to haul the furniture onto the lawn and sort through the attic and basement. But as Baelthon excavates, he also discovers layers of family mystery and comedy and cruelty, all of it piled too deeply for anyone to sort out: the unexplained disappearance of Farmican's ashes, the unfinished novel that may actually be his suicide note, the opera about cannibalism that his son is writing to rescue himself from obscurity, and, finally, the family's migration to the Nevada desert to claim their inheritance.

And Baelthon discovers Wendy, Farmican's sixteen-year-old daughter who keeps her checkers pieces taped to the board where she and her father left them before he died. Emerging from her chrysalis of baby fat and self-loathing, Wendy is destined to be both the love of Baelthon's life and the object of his betrayal.

Twenty-five years later, from the perspective of mid- and middle-class life, Baelthon recalls the mistaken selves he and the Farmicans once inhabited. What he doesn't expect—or think he deserves—is the redemption and abiding against-all-odds love that await him.

Editorial Reviews

Walter Kirn
The book is as light and swirly and eccentric as its Marin County setting.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a droll yet often poignant tale of abandoned ideals, lost places and forgotten eras, Jones (Ordinary Money; Particles and Luck) looks back to the small, literally hidden, Northern California town of Seawall in the early 1970s. When a 17-year-old boy calling himself "Baelthon" arrives at the soon-to-be-condemned home of the late poet James Farmican, he is only seeking to make a little rent money by helping to clear out the large house as the family prepares for a move. But immediately he is drawn into the bohemian lifestyle and complex family dynamics at work within the house. The poet's beautiful widow has remarried a rich, flaky sometime idealist who has transferred their estate into a tax-shelter church and hopes to move the family to a rural retreat in Oregon. The Farmicans' daughter is discovering the power of her burgeoning sexuality. Their temperamental younger son writes bad poetry. And their eldest son put up for adoption as an infant has returned to meet his family and claim his share of a bequeathed, likely defunct casino in Void, Nevada. The narrative is told largely in the present-day voice of Baelthon, now a cynical English professor living alone in a suburban development. He has been recently reunited with the Farmicans in a scheme to wrest their father's estate from the church. Jones employs a discriminating eye for detail, playful symbolism and evocative, often lyrical prose. While making sport of his characters' youthful pretensions, he nonetheless insightfully demonstrates that neither their ideals nor their bonds to each other, however tenuously founded, have faded as completely as they may themselves imagine.
Library Journal
In this uncohesive new novel, Jones (Particles and Luck) explores themes of decay and dysfunction that unfortunately end up afflicting his own work. Narrator Baelthon has long been involved with the family of famed poet James Farmican, who shot himself in the 1960s. Nothing in the world of the Farmicans has solid foundations, from their crumbling, condemned house to their personal relationships, which are colored by family myths, truths untold, and history denied. Each of the characters is on a quest to discover what really happened in the early 1970s, when the Farmicans were forced from their home, the storehouse of their family history. They must find the truth or a version of it to make a claim on the Farmican estate in the 1990s. Although Jones writes with style, his characters are too quirky to be convincing, and the reader wanders through the novel, never able to piece together the essential truths. Recommended only for larger collections where interest warrants. -- Caroline M. Hallsworth, Cambrian College, Sudbury, Ontario
Kirkus Reviews
The struggles of the proudly eccentric family of a once-famous poet who's committed suicide lie at the heart of this kaleidoscopic comedy, which dazzlingly illuminates the exact moment when the '60s disintegrated into terminal narcissism and gave birth to today's entropic culture. Jones (Particles and Luck) spins out an audacious plot focusing on a pivotal four days in 1973 when the children of James Farmican, a beatnik who blew his brains out three years earlier, are finally compelled to give up their father's decaying labyrinth of a Victorian mansion. "California's over," says their beautiful self-absorbed mother, Julia, now married to psychiatrist Faro Ness, whose oozing '60s sensitivity can't hide the fact that he has seized almost all of the family's assets. Two children, Peter and Wendy, are casualties of too much Peter Pan whimsy; their long-lost brother Ed, given up for adoption to a "normal" family, has arrived to claim his inheritance. Observing all this is Steve, the callow 17-year-old who had been hired to clean out the house. Falling (naturally) under their spell, the interloper has already managed to impregnate Wendy; he follows her and her siblings to Nevada, where Ed wants to resurrect his father's shuttered Cornucopia Casino. Writing 20 years later, Steve describes how Peter gambled himself into debt to gangsters, and how Wendy let a Christian cardsharp convince her that she could pay off her brother's debt (and save her unborn child) by serving clients in the Ecstacy Ranch brothel. The novel circles around to Steve's account of meeting Wendy again after 20 years, the two reuniting not because she loves him, but because she needs him to pose as her husband inorder to contest Faro Ness's control over the now sizable estate.

Jones performs an act of alchemy here, burnishing the bitter and petty betrayals of an era with a lyrical anguish that makes Steve's aching regret feel universal.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679746003
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/27/1998
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Louis B. Jones is the author of two previous novels, Ordinary Money and Particles and Luck. He lives in California with his family.

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