BN.com Gift Guide

The Last Days of California

( 14 )

Overview

“[A] terrific first novel. . . . Why worry about labeling a book this good? Just read it.”—Laurie Muchnick, New York Times Book Review
Jess is fifteen years old and waiting for the world to end. Her evangelical father has packed up the family to drive west to California, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and rebellious (and secretly pregnant) sister, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop, Waffle House, and gas station along the ...

See more details below
Paperback
$12.05
BN.com price
(Save 19%)$14.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (19) from $6.71   
  • New (15) from $8.12   
  • Used (4) from $6.71   
The Last Days of California

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.99
BN.com price
(Save 26%)$14.95 List Price

Overview

“[A] terrific first novel. . . . Why worry about labeling a book this good? Just read it.”—Laurie Muchnick, New York Times Book Review
Jess is fifteen years old and waiting for the world to end. Her evangelical father has packed up the family to drive west to California, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and rebellious (and secretly pregnant) sister, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop, Waffle House, and gas station along the way. As Jess’s belief frays, her teenage myopia evolves into awareness about her fracturing family. Selected as a Barnes & Noble Discover pick and an Indie Next pick, Mary Miller’s radiant debut novel reinvigorates the literary road-trip story with wry vulnerability and savage charm.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The Metcalf family is headed to California to witness the return of Jesus. For teenager Jess and her older sister Elise motoring to the Rapture is only part of the strangeness of their lives; for one thing, Elise is pregnant and the whole family seems to be splintering in odd directions. This first novel by Mary Miller (Big World) perfectly registers the inner feelings of two sisters experiencing the beginnings of a new life.

Elliott Holt
“An affecting coming-of-age story from an inspired new voice.”
Catherine Straut - ELLE
“Miller portrays her characters…with an unwavering intensity…. Miller’s prose bestows a magnetic beauty on gas-station bathroom stops, Waffle House lunches, and the cast of overfed, overstimulated travelers the Metcalfs encounter along the interstates. …A plangent portrait of American adolescence…. [She delivers] raw the heartbreaking futility of the Metcalfs’ small triumphs, private embarrassments, and poor decisions with such hilarious precision that you become completely involved in their struggles—and, ultimately, in awe of their abiding hope.”
Hannah Hickok - Redbook
“Miller’s depiction of a squabbling, love-you-one-minute, hate-you-the-next family dynamic is spot-on, hilarious, and ultra-relatable…. Sometimes a road-trip novel, particularly one as compulsively devourable as The Last Days of California, is just what you need to get that elusively giddy, hopeful feeling back.”
Elizabeth McCracken
“Hilarious and heartbreaking, dark and beautiful, a novel written by one of the most observant and mordant writers alive…This book is terrific.”
Wiley Cash
“A literary snapshot of our times that portrays the affirmation and doubt we often find in family and faith.”
Alexis Smith
“The Last Days of California is the Sense and Sensibility of pre-Apocalypse America, and Jess and Elise may be my new favorite literary sisters: different as night and day, on a road trip to the Rapture with their Evangelical parents, they find they have nothing to lose but each other. Mary Miller is a ventriloquist of adolescent angst and a nervy surveyor of American culture.”
William Boyle - Los Angeles Review of Books
“The Last Days of California is a beautiful examination of youth and family and what it means to be alive (and to fear dying) in contemporary America…every scene…tremble[s] with significance… Rarely, if ever, have we seen young American womanhood painted in such a raw and honest and heartbreaking way.”
Matt Bell
“A road novel reinvented for our apocalypse-obsessed age, a coming-of-age story so precisely insightful about our contemporary life that it seems as if it could only have been written from the future. If the Rapture comes, I'll gladly be left behind if it means getting to read more books by the extraordinary Mary Miller: She possesses one of the boldest new voices in fiction, a speech born out of the South but that aims to speak for all of America—and succeeds.”
Tupelo Hassman
“Go on this road trip with Miller's heroine, Jess. You couldn't ask for a better companion across a country and a family's wastelands. Through Jess, Miller manages wisdom without cynicism, creates a teenager with grace and warmth and lessons to share for burnt-out adults bored of irony. Get in the car and roll through the great questions about how to have faith in god or family or country, get in the car and become a believer.”
The New York Times Book Review - Laurie Muchnick
Spending four days in a car with teenagers who don't want to be there sounds like a recipe for literary disaster, but Miller's pacing is so sure that we feel Jess's claustrophobia without experiencing it…The sentences in The Last Days of California take their time…piling up clauses and veering into detours, but they never call attention to themselves…which is appropriate, since Jess doesn't like to call attention to herself, and the book is perfectly shaped to reflect her observant sensibility…Sometimes the novel feels like a poem, each day on the road like a stanza repeated with slight variations and brand names used as incantations: McDonald's, Taco Bell, Target, Krispy Kreme. Miller always chooses just the right detail to illuminate life in the 2010s…
Publishers Weekly
★ 10/07/2013
The Metcalf family may be road-tripping toward the Rapture in California in Miller’s debut novel, but the cross-country journey marks the beginning, rather than the end, of an examined life for her 15-year-old narrator, Jess. Between discovering that her prayer-happy father has lost his job and finding the positive pregnancy test that her 17-year-old sister, Elise, took in a Biloxi hotel bathroom, young Jess has plenty on her mind, as middle America speeds past the windows of the family’s Taurus. With so much in flux, she starts asking questions—about their matching black “King Jesus Returns!” T-shirts, about the purity ring her father gave her, and about herself. Meanwhile, Jess and Elise set a course for debauchery in roadside hotels, drinking and partying with any boys they can attract. It’s an apocalypse-driven ripening for Jess. Beyond the well-crafted coming-of-age narrative, Miller gets every little detail about the South—from the way the sky greens before a storm to gas stations where Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition” blares—just right. But it’s Jess’s earnest, searching voice, as she contemplates her parents, the trip, and their values, that lingers after Miller’s story has finished. In Jess, Miller has created a narrator worthy of comparison with those of contemporaries such as Karen Thompson Walker and of greats such as Carson McCullers. (Jan.)
Matt Bell
“The Last Days of California is a road novel reinvented for our apocalypse-obsessed age, a coming-of-age story so precisely insightful about our contemporary life that it seems as if it could only have been written from the future. If the Rapture comes, I'll gladly be left behind if it means getting to read more books by the extraordinary Mary Miller: She possesses one of the boldest new voices in fiction, a speech born out of the South but that aims to speak for all of America—and succeeds.”
Tupelo Hassman
“Go on this road trip with Miller's heroine, Jess. You couldn't ask for a better companion across a country and a family's wastelands. Through Jess, Miller manages wisdom without cynicism, creates a teenager with grace and warmth and lessons to share for burnt-out adults bored of irony. Get in the car and roll through the great questions about how to have faith in god or family or country, get in the car and become a believer.”
Laurie Muchnick - New York Times Book Review
“[A] terrific first novel…The Last Days of California joins a number of other recent novels written from the perspective of children or teenagers—Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. It’s hard to figure out why some are published as ‘young adult’ while others aren’t, but why worry about labeling a book this good? Just read it.”
Michele Filgate
“A coming-of-age novel for the faithful and the faithless—and anyone in-between.”
Emily Colette Wilkinson
“The Last Days of California…is the debut of a promising new voice, a voice that describes the painful longing for transcendence and connectedness with compelling vividness and candor.”
Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
The Metcalfs, an evangelical family from Montgomery, AL, are on their way to California for the Rapture. Fifteen-year-old Jess, a puzzled observer of her family's fault lines, narrates the westward journey through the Deep South. Obedient (she hands out religious tracts at rest stops), protective (her beautiful, bad-girl 17-year-old sister, Elise, is secretly pregnant, and Jess worries about her and the unborn baby's safety), curious (the separate motel rooms provide cover for decidedly nonevangelical explorations of drinking and boys), and devoted (for all the Metcalf family flaws, they love one another), Jess is a delightful, sharply funny chronicler of the exquisite details and spot-on dialog that are unique to the best Southern fiction. VERDICT Miller, known for her short stories (Big World), has written an irresistible first novel that brings a steady-eyed look at a part of the American conversation that is too often caricatured. A sure-handed master of the Southern psyche, Miller has earned all the early buzz on this one. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]—Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-03
Miller (Big World, stories, 2009) puts a family on the road but doesn't give them much to do in her aimless first novel. You'd think that people expecting to be taken up by the rapture in three days would be a lot more cheerful than the Metcalfs are when we first encounter them in Louisiana. But it soon becomes clear that only Dad has much invested in the end of the world, and that might be because he's lost his job again; there isn't any other apparent reason he has insisted that the family drive from their home in Alabama to experience the rapture in California. Mom is listlessly along for the ride (readers may well feel the same), and oldest daughter Elise aggressively challenges Dad's professions of faith at every opportunity. She's the family's designated bad girl, although at present, only her sister Jess, Miller's 15-year-old narrator, knows that she's pregnant. As they meander across Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, staying in crummy motels and eating in bad restaurants, Jess worries about her weight, her sister's pregnancy and the unanswerable enigma of why Elise is prettier and more popular than she is. The religious angle mostly gets dropped in favor of Jess' adolescent angst; two sexual encounters with boys who actually do think she's cute seem intended to show Jess gaining some self-respect, but they're mostly sordid and sad. The Metcalfs witness a fatal car accident, Jess and Elise encounter some strange fellow motel visitors, but there's no narrative drive to the events; even the rapture's failure to happen is greeted with a shrug. This lack of affect may be the point of Miller's deadpan narrative, which substitutes the brand names of junk food and Hollywood movies for social observation, but it doesn't make for compelling fiction. Drab and dreary.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871408419
  • Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 9/2/2014
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 175,420
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Miller is the author of the short story collection Big World. Her work has been published in Mcsweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, the Oxford American, and other journals. A former Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas, she currently serves as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. This is her first novel.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Mary Miller, Author of The Last Days of California

The Last Days of California is about a family traveling west to proselytize before the rapture. What inspired you to write about the end of days and a family with such mixed religious conviction?

It was May of 2011 and the end had not come despite Harold Camping's (second) prediction. One morning I was reading the newspaper and there was an article about a father who took his family on a cross-country road trip to await the rapture in Pacific Time. There was no explanation as to why, or what purpose this trip might have served; there were no details whatsoever. I wondered what would compel someone to do this. I wondered what this man's children were like, what they thought of this endeavor.

The next thing I knew, I had a family of four sitting at a Waffle House in western Louisiana. As I wrote, I had to figure each of them out—what they wanted, where they stood on the issue of the rapture, salvation. But there were more immediate questions. Who had to use the bathroom? Who was starving, carsick, etc.?

The relationship between Jess and Elise is one of the richest in the novel. Do you think there's something particular or unusual about sisters that inspire so much competition, emotion, empathy, etc?

It's just Jess and Elise, and they're two years apart, so it's automatically going to be a compare/contrast situation. Which one is prettier, more athletic, more popular? They're going to compare themselves to each other because they are the other's closest mirror.

Jess is intensely jealous of Elise's beauty, but she's also her sister's staunchest champion. She loves no one more, wants nothing more than Elise's approval, attention, love. I think this is pretty typical of sisters, particularly those who are equally smart and sensitive but differ in more superficial ways.

The American road trip is part of a long cultural tradition. How do you feel about our road culture? Why did it appeal to you as a setting for the novel?

My impulse is to say that I love road trips, but this isn't true. I would like to be the kind of person who loves road trips, but, for me, it's more the destination, not the journey. I seem to attract extremely heavy downpours, and the areas I typically drive through aren't all that scenic—eastern Texas, central Louisiana, southern Mississippi. I only like to stop if there's a candy store or a bakery involved and it's not out of the way (I recommend the Pecan House in McHenry, Mississippi, and Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery in West, Texas).
The road trip is a great setting for a novel, though, at least from a writer's perspective. It creates an inherent structure and forward momentum. It answers the most basic question: What do the characters want? Of course the characters want other things, as well, like to get out of the damn car, in which case you also have conflict.

This is your first novel, but for years you've written short stories. What was it like to switch from one format to the other? Did anything surprise you about writing a novel as opposed to a short story?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 9, 2014

    Few books offer so much wit, complexity, and ambiguity.  Deep e

    Few books offer so much wit, complexity, and ambiguity. 

    Deep empathy for her characters and the world at large on every page.

    Also highly recommend Miller's book of short stories out with Hobart.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    This is the best book I've read so far in 2014. I didn't know wh

    This is the best book I've read so far in 2014. I didn't know what to expect when I first picked it up. I knew the plot contained references to an apocalyptic scenario of some kind, and that usually means zombies and nuclear explosions and such. However, Miller takes a more personal and interesting approach to the subject, following a religious family on a road trip across the country as they attempt to reach California before the fire and brimstone hit the fan. The narrator is a young girl who is struggling with her faith and feelings of sexual awakening. Every thought in her head is hilarious and heartbreaking. The family is extremely flawed, and as the road trip progresses, the conflicts escalate. There are no zombies or nuclear explosions. This is not your typical dystopian apocalypse story--it's something better.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    This is the best book I've read in a long time. The family at th

    This is the best book I've read in a long time. The family at the center of the story is heartbreakingly real, especially the father. If you are or have been an adolescent you will see yourself in these characters. The writing is neat and urgent, lots of memorable images. The end was surprising, satisfying, and one you don't see coming. Loved every page of it. Recommend to anyone with a beating heart.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Fresh air in book form, this little diddy will make you glad tha

    Fresh air in book form, this little diddy will make you glad that books still exist. Pick it up for a beach read or lay by your computer when you the screen stops making sense; even punctured by distraction, you'll finish it in no time....and you'll be glad you did. 

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    Too much $

    A great story but too expensive for 148 pages!!

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Mary Miller packs quiet insight into lives that seem at first to

    Mary Miller packs quiet insight into lives that seem at first to be quotidian, but open up with vast complexities in everyday spaces. Miller crafts stories of desperate people with such care that one cannot help but be both with them and apart, as if seeing a fire burn too brightly. I

    I'ts not often that I finish a book in just a couple of days, but this thing had me all the way. Mary's sentences turn beautifully, her insights flare like supernovas, and there is great humor in this tale. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Mary Miller is an exceptional writer and storyteller. I read th

    Mary Miller is an exceptional writer and storyteller. I read this book in two long sittings and loved every page. Can't wait for her next book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 15, 2014

    When I read the reviews for The Last Days of California, I expec

    When I read the reviews for The Last Days of California, I expected a coming-of-age story, but to reduce this clever, sometimes dark and often tender novel to a 'coming-of-age' story, is to do it a disservice. In Jess and her apocalypse-hungry parents and just-pregnant prettier sister Elise, Mary Miller slyly reminds us of the keen appetites and yearnings we all share -- for love, for adulation, for the whole array of American fast food, for money, for sex, for salvation, and even for damnation.  On their road trip from Montgomery to destinations west, in what their father is convinced are the last days before the rapture, Jess and Elise travel their own backseat journey. But their compass points toward adventure, not the end times. Yes, there are comic and sexual episodes.  And yes, there are mishaps, flat tires, swindles, a flea market, a casino--and death--along the way.




    But the plot is only one pleasure. Seeing life via Jess holds as many satisfactions. Because they're in high school, Jess and Elise waver between youth and adulthood. They share a hotel bed like small children, where Jess notes, Elise was "so close that she could only look into one of my eyes at a time." Jess is a fond younger sister, who doesn't want to go to heaven if Elise won't be there -- she'd rather chance a post-Armageddon earth overrun with criminals intent on stealing their food and guns. Jess ruminates that Elise, "was the only skinny one, and I was glad for it because I didn't want our whole family to be overweight--it would seem like a fundamental flaw, like something we'd never overcome." Under a bleach-scented motel sheet she recalls a tv show about pests. "The family with bedbugs had closed them up in a suitcase and carried them home from a motel just like this one. The bugs were hard and adapted to survive, moving up and down the stairs on the children's stuffed animals." And she's a casual but cunning observer. Of her parents: "My mother put a hand on the back of his neck and told him he was doing a good job, which she did when he was doing a bad job." And of her mother: "She seemed like a nice person, doing all the nice things nice people did....but when one of her best friends died, she hadn't even seemed sad about it."




    The real destination in this utterly satisfying story is nowhere near California--it's an interior journey, and you'll be richly rewarded if you ride there with Jess.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    A lovely novel to add to the bildungsroman genre, and one that f

    A lovely novel to add to the bildungsroman genre, and one that folks who label themselves literary and folks who just want a good story will enjoy equally. Beautiful, finely drawn characters.  Nobody can beat Mary Miller in those diamond-bursts of insight, either.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    Just save your money!

    This book was like one long chapter..of a ridiculous story.I finished it because I kept waiting for..something..anything.It was tedious.

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)