A naked man running through rush-hour traffic that’s backed up for miles jumpstarts “Wonder Valley,” author Ivy Pochoda’s enthralling look at people mired in a nomadic existence, anonymous to most, yet longing for a connection with another.
With its large cast of characters and unconventional storytelling, “Wonder Valley” works as the literary version of the Oscar-winning film “Crash.” Not every character is sympathetic, but the increasingly heightened drama that surrounds each character’s life never falters. These are people who are alone, even when surrounded by those to whom they should be closest. Adding to the feeling of anonymity, the novel is nearly two-thirds finished before a last name is evoked.
Married lawyer Tony becomes obsessed with that naked man that he leaves his car to run after, feeling a “tingling sense of freedom” in the man’s “unburdened stride.” There is Ren, who has traveled to Los Angeles to find his mother, who refuses to leave her little corner of Skid Row. Britt is running from her past when she ends up at a ranch in Twentynine Palms before eventually making it to Los Angeles. And there are Blake and Sam, two violent drifters in search of Wonder Valley where they plan to settle. For these two, Wonder Valley is the stuff of dreams, a near-mythical place that’s really just a half-abandoned community of run-down cabins.
Pochoda deftly moves each of these characters together, making their connection realistic while pulling “Wonder Valley” from the past to the present to illustrate what led each to this particular moment. Los Angeles and Southern California emerge as vital characters, too, showing how the area affects each person. This look at a broad segment of people imbued Pochoda’s last novel, “Visitation Street,” which was one of the bright spots of 2013.
Pochoda delivers a compassionate look at the displaced that treats each with respect and humanity in “Wonder Valley.” Oline H. Cogdill, AP