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“Dutton’s fiction debut is a stellar, thought-provoking novel about life, death, California, music, and more. . . . If you’ve never been to California, you might feel like you have visited after reading this creative and unforgettable story. For connoisseurs of singular fiction.” Library Journal, starred review
Los Angeles, California: Clem Jasper is a twenty-seven-year-old trust funder with a world-famous rock musician for a father. Unsure what do with her life, she spends her time just floating, a cynical observer of the Hollywood scene around her. But when her dad suddenly dies, Clem discovers he’s left her somethinga series of letters that take her on a strange and revelatory road trip across the iconic Californian terrain. Ignoring her aunt’s suggestion to pitch the trip as a reality show, she embarks on her own to discover just what it was that her father meant her to finda secret he couldn’t tell her until now.
With a voice reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell, Dutton’s Driftwood is a surprising, poignant, and funny debut. Dutton deftly captures the mythology of California with a bright and unusual take on the freedom of the open road, the power of music, and what it means, even in the midst of grief, to be a family.
Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fictionnovels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
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About the Author
Elizabeth Dutton is the author of 1,033 Reasons to Smile. She is a graduate of the creative writing master’s program at the University of Glasgow and has worked for Mother Jones magazine. Driftwood is her first novel. Born and raised in California, Elizabeth now lives in Chesterfield, South Carolina, where she teaches English at the local community college.
Read an Excerpt
By Elizabeth Dutton
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2014 Elizabeth Dutton
All rights reserved.
"There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California."
— Edward Abbey
In life, you need just three things. You need happiness, those moments when you smile and shine and the universe reflects it back. You need love, like when you think your heart will burst into a million flaming pieces because of how good you feel about someone. And lastly, you need a kick-ass song to carry you through it all."
My father used to tell me this. Actually, he said it to people all over the world. Sometimes he would punctuate this statement by spinning around, letting out a screaming howl, and then tossing a scarf in the air. I used to think it was silly, but now I understand it. What he said, not the spinning or the scarf part.
My name is Clementine Jasper and I am an empty soul, or so I sometimes believe. I like to be called Clem. I am twenty-seven years old. I am of average height and weight and perhaps above average intelligence. I have clean teeth and a pretty face. I am unemployed. I have also never had a real job. This is the big thing about me. At least, it's what I think is the big thing about me. I went to college and got a degree in American Studies, did my thesis on "Disneyland and the American Dream." I spend a good amount of time thinking of jobs or careers that I would like to have, but they never seem to pan out. Actually, I never seem to pan out.
We may as well get this over with now. If my last name rings a bell, it's because my father, Tommy Jasper, is the lead singer of Condor. You've probably slow-danced at someone's wedding to their biggest hit, "Loving Rose," that overplayed, seventies California rock ballad that has surely been the theme of a thousand senior proms. You may have smoked pot and listened to their other hits, or maybe you made out with someone you kind of liked while one of their singles played on the radio. Lately, you probably heard them on a movie soundtrack; either an old song, used to invoke a nostalgia for feather hair clips and cloisonné jewelry, or a new track, written to remind aging baby boomers that sensible rocking out was still within reach. A woman stopped me on the street once and asked if my dad was "the Condor guy." I admitted he was and the woman started telling me, in detail, about how her first child was conceived while the Barefoot and Broken album played away on her stereo. I didn't need to know about that — no one does, really — but the woman seemed to need to tell someone. After listening to her for almost half an hour, I thanked her, smiled, and kept walking.
Ah, you say, that explains it. Yes, I am a rich girl. I have a trust fund. I don't necessarily need to work. Who wouldn't want that life? I can tell you, though, that being surrounded by people who consider shopping a hobby and brunches to be appointments is somewhat soul-crushing. I really do want to have a calling; a purpose other than to drive from one mocha latte with friends to another. Do something about it? I would, if I knew just what to do. Instead, I find myself endlessly frustrated. Life, for me, is like a lap pool. I have my own lane, but I'm just floating in it. Yes, I sound like an overindulged asshole. I'm not. I am lost.
My sister, Dena, is what some would classify a serious environmentalist. She is not. She is the commercial illusion of an environmentalist. She is a "Keep Tahoe Blue" sticker on the back of an SUV, a $55 canvas grocery tote made in a Malaysian sweatshop, a smiling granola-lover unaware of her oversized, clown-shoed carbon footprint. Dena is married to a man who is the assistant director of a non-profit in San Francisco that saves otters or some other noble pursuit. She told me last month that people aren't supposed to flush cat litter down the toilet because there's something in cat pee that kills sea otters. Terrible, isn't it? Dena also has a sweet little environmentally-friendly child named Birch. Yes, everyone pointed out to Dena that Birch is bound to be called "Bitch" by future bullies and classmates, but Dena feels some deep connection to birch trees and always underestimates everyone else's capacity for cruelty. She is really quite happy driving a hybrid car, shopping at Trader Joe's, and planting trees on the weekends.
My brother is named Waylon Simon Jasper. He says his name makes him sound like a sepia-tinted Oklahoma dust bowl farmer, so he has everyone call him Simon. He's an agent. That means he wears exquisite suits and luxurious cologne and is always on his cell phone, and he tends to overestimate the world's capacity for cruelty. He knows a lot of famous people and everyone knows that Tommy Jasper is his father. He represents actors now but started out with musician friends of Dad's. He's supposed to be quite powerful, or at least that's what he says. No one would say it to my face if he wasn't. He's always cheerful when he needs to be and yells at people at the right times. I am nothing like him.
This, you will see, is a story about waking up. It's actually about more than that, as most stories are wont to have many facets. But waking up is a good place to start. It was late May, 10:34 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The temperature was in the high 60s and a breeze was coming in off the ocean. I was staring at the ceiling. I did this every morning for about forty-five minutes. Perhaps a little longer. On that particular day, I'd only been awake for about fifteen. Sun filtered through the gauze curtains across the room. I had left the window open a crack at the top and now I could smell the jasmine flowers out in the yard. The vine was one I had planted three summers ago. It grew up and around and over itself until it was just a massive lump of green leaves like cupped hands, twisting stems, and paper-white flowers. The inside of the lump was lousy with tan spiders the size of cherries. I tried to untangle the vine once to see how tall it had really grown, but there were just too many spiders and I kept accidentally breaking the tendrils. So I let it keep wrapping around itself, only three small green ringlets clinging to the fence post I'd intended for it. Back to staring at the ceiling. Somewhere in the distance, a leaf blower screamed in a monotone. Welcome to Southern California.
* * *
The night before, I'd had dinner with some friends on the patio of a place on Beverly. I picked at my Salad Niçoise while everyone talked about plans for summer trips and bands that were coming to town. They were all giggly over some secret Miserlou show coming up. I was busy pushing pieces of tuna around my plate. This guy, Georgie, who was with us, noticed my lack of enthusiasm and turned to me.
"Don't you like Miserlou?"
"Sure, yeah," I told him.
"Clem, don't you get excited about anything?" he asked.
"I don't know."
This made everyone laugh, including me, but I'm not sure why. I was telling the truth.
"You have to understand," Georgie said to his cousin, who had flown in from London and was currently sitting next to me sipping a kumquat cocktail, "Clem is a magnet for the weird and terribly interesting. But she just doesn't ever give a shit. I don't know what it would take to get Clem really excited about anything. The end of times? Who knows?"
Georgie is an artist with a flair for the dark and dramatic, but he's also kind of right. He looked at me and smiled very sweetly, and his cousin reached over and put his hand on mine.
"I think far too many people have a low excitement threshold, dear. I think you are just fine. Just darling."
Again we all laughed, but it was that hollow laugh of false tickled delight. At least it was for me.
I kept thinking about this the next morning. I did seem to always find myself talking to unusual people or seeing strange things. But they were just things. I didn't need to shout about it all. Did I get excited about anything? Actually, I couldn't remember the last time I was really happy or really sad. I couldn't think of the last time I was really anything, for that matter. I started wondering if I was some sort of sociopath. It wasn't like I didn't feel anything at all. It's more that I never felt extremes of things. As I got dressed and checked my email, I decided that it meant I was just even. I was average. Normal.
I started my day out with a trip to the market for some laundry detergent. The Whole Foods on West Third was its perpetually crowded self, and after waiting ages for a parking space, I was finally able to go in and get some of that lemon verbena-scented stuff I love. They were putting out fresh bread and newly roasted chickens and I could smell the sharp sweetness of the pineapple cubes some guy in an apron had recently cut and set out as samples. Everyone around me pushed carts and carried on conversations on their phones. People with places to go and things to do and people to talk to. I made my way to the aisle with the cleaning supplies. I always loved the smell of all the perfumes from dish soap and laundry detergent and scrubbers and sprays; all those smells coming together should be gross, but they work.
I got in line and mindlessly eavesdropped on the customers ahead of me. A woman was telling her friend about some retreat she went on at a resort in Palm Desert and how the leader really helped her get her spirit aligned with a path to wealth.
"Like, more money?" said the friend.
"Well, yeah. And just wealth in life. Bringing all that goodness and light into your life," said the woman as she pulled a big plastic bottle of water out of her overpriced purse and took a sip.
"Totally," said the friend.
"And we talked about using our lives for good. Like, helping the planet and animals and showing other people the right way to live."
The woman nodded and swiped her debit card to pay for the soy chips and trail mix.
As soon as the cashier rang up my detergent, I started thinking that I probably should have bought some groceries. Maybe some fruit or something.
From there I went to the car wash where you hang out in a brightly-lit waiting room and watch your car go through the scrubbing tunnel. Your car is pulled through, whipped with giant brushes, and hosed down with what the place promises is auto wax, and then you wait while guys with wet, limp red rags wipe everything down, inside and out. They stand by the car, arms up with the rag still in their fists, to let you know they're done. I am always kind of worried that I won't notice that they've finished my car, that the guy would be stuck standing there waiting for me and thinking I am an asshole. I sometimes worry about things like that, worry that people have the wrong idea about me. My mother said once that she wanted to get me a T-shirt that says I'm really a very nice person to wear around, to help me with this cause. I don't think my mother takes me very seriously sometimes.
I sat in the waiting area at the car wash and flipped through a wrinkled magazine, not really looking at the months-old photos of celebrities and the articles screaming about their fashion disasters. I just turned the page every now and again, pausing first to glance at the Muppet orgy of brushes around my car and then to watch out the window as the guys in red polo shirts wiped the dampness from the cars. As soon as that hand clutching the rag went up, I walked quickly out the door and through the lot. I handed the guy a five-dollar bill and smiled, hoping he'd be glad I was so prompt and polite and generous. He just nodded without looking me in the eye and walked away.
With that errand crossed off my list, I decided to try the bookstore next. I was driving down Fairfax to get back to Third when Simon called.
"What are you doing?"
"Going to the bookstore. What are you doing?"
"Working, what do you think? Jesus, Clem."
"What do you want?"
"What's the name of that place in Vegas, with the wine and the glass walls?"
"You know, the place where the hostess is always drunk? The place that my supposedly helpful assistant can't seem to remember?"
Oh, I got it. I was once again a pawn in Simon's quest to humiliate his assistant. But I really had no idea what place he was talking about.
"You need to chill out."
"So you don't know either? What the fuck is wrong with all you guys? No help. No help at all. Love you."
I didn't know how Simon became this way. He used to be normal. Somewhere inside he still was, and maybe he needed one of those T-shirts Mom suggested too. I'm really a very nice person. His, though, would read I'm not the asshole I want you to think I am. I pulled up in front of the bookstore and parked the car.
The bookstore on La Brea is my favorite. They carry magazines from all over the world, have a huge travel section, and it's not full of people lounging around on soft chairs and sofas. That's something I don't really like about the chain bookstores. There is something disingenuous about those places where customers were made to feel as if the store just wants you to hang out and read books and drink coffee and be all Seattle, like you are sitting in someone's immense, if rather oddly decorated, living room. This is an annoying kind of bullshit. The stores want — need — customers to buy the books. There is no casual way around that. I just want people to be honest about it. I like to think I want honesty out of people more than anything else. But I hate to admit that the real issue may be that I just don't like weaving my way around people reclined in leather chairs while I try to find a Moroccan cookbook. So I go to the place on La Brea. The owner is named Mar, which I am sure is short for something, and he is young but craggy and wants you to buy the books before you read them. Makes sense to me.
Mar is the one who told me that my dad used to have an apartment just down the street from the shop years and years ago, right about the time he married Mom. Mar said that the Condor song, "Rock La Brea," was written there and is actually about some construction noise that bothered everyone at the time. I nodded like I already knew that, but then I checked with my dad, and it turned out Mar was right. It's weird when strangers know more about my family than I do.
I walked down the aisles, checking out spines of the books in poetry, new fiction, history, humor, and reference. I needed to get a book for my friend Sara. She runs a charity that has something to do with herpes, plays the xylophone, loves ghosts and tarot cards and conspiracies. I guess I shouldn't judge other people's interests when I don't appear to have many of my own. I do have interests. I like talking about intelligent things. I like reading the paper. I like lots of things.
I made my way to the "Occult" section surrounded by books on palm reading and tarot cards. I had to wonder what Sara saw in that, those parlor trick sorts of things. Mysteries revealed and a sense of otherness, I suppose. I picked up a pack of tarot cards that had a Star Trek theme. They were so horrible, I was tempted to get them as a gag gift. But I didn't want to hurt Sara's feelings, so I kept looking. There were other decks, all of them steeped some way in total nerdistry. I just wanted to know what the cards meant. Culturally, each card must have some sort of value. There must be some sort of weird history to them, maybe an interesting pattern to the possibilities presented, the interpretations allowed.
The truth is, I believe in fate. I think fate is a valid and interesting concept. But I don't believe in fate sending messages through playing cards. Wouldn't that be fate showing itself through chance? I tried to work this out, but it made my head hurt. There were plenty of books there on the subject of tarot cards, and I browsed the covers for something interesting, stopping occasionally to watch the dots and dashes of dust float around on the sunlight bars from the skylights. I could see the register from where I was squatting and noticed a girl of about eight asking Mar a question.
"Do you have any books about death sex?" the little girl asked. She had her hands at her sides and was gently brushing her fingertips across the wales of her corduroy pants.
"Uh, death sex?" Mar wanted clarification.
"I didn't stutter. I said death sex." The girl looked straight ahead. Mar went from helpful to shocked to irritated, all in an instant.
"I don't even know what that means," said Mar.
There was a buzzing and chirping from my purse, the annoying sounds of my cell phone. I got up and started to rummage through my bag while heading out the door to take the call outside. I hate taking phone calls in public places. I either feel like I am talking too loud and bothering everyone around me, or speaking so low that the person on the phone only hears me as an intermittent low hum. Besides, I was sure it was Simon again, and he hated when I mumbled on the phone.
Excerpted from Driftwood by Elizabeth Dutton. Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Dutton. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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