Review: Malibu Rising, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book encapsulates all of my thoughts on the recent (late 2020-ish) downslide in quality of Book of the Month picks (I think this is one subscription I'll be cancelling come October and the drastic reduction in my spending money) - the books are just fine. They aren't bad, they aren't even mediocre; they're just fine. They are good, easy reads to flick through on a plane or on a beach that you don't need to think about very hard, but also nothing that's going to stick with you for very long. And Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid is kind of exactly that.
This book tells the story of the Riva family, Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit, in 1950s-1980s Malibu, and how their childhood and adolescence shaped the adults they have become and their relationships to each other, and how their annual family summer party turned into the big Hollywood party to be seen at. The structure of this book was interesting, and I enjoyed the way the timeline flipped back and forth between the lead-up to and the party itself in the 1980s and the history of the parents' relationship, both to themselves and to each of the siblings. And I liked the story itself, and the way the puzzle pieces unfold and stick together, and the way personal choices and character growths become obvious once all of the context of the past is made clear.
Now for the things I wish had been developed a bit further: the motif of fire in the prologue and closing chapter. It feels a bit like Jenkins Reid started with the fire motif, completely forgot about it, and then tacks it on at the end as she's doing edits on the first draft (which brings me to the problem I always have with Jenkins Reid's novels - they just feel a bit sloppy in the way they are framed and finished). At that point, ma'am, just leave it off. It's jarring and doesn't really end up fitting in with the story you wrote. I also think that all of the big emotional reveals the central characters of the four siblings have about themselves feel a bit too pat - they read as if they are handed down from on high, rather than the characters earning the discovery through the conflicts and trauma they went through.
And, oh my God, the parents were such awful people. They were childish and selfish and made bad decision upon bad decision, ignoring everyone and everything that tried to give them advice that went against what they wanted to do, and the entire time the focus on the novel was on them I was screaming at them (internally, since I was on a plane) to just shut up and stop behaving like children since they had children themselves.
A lot of the secondary and tertiary characters also fell a bit flat, and read more like caricatures than anything else - which leads me to wish that Jenkins Reid had cut them out entirely to spend more time on the Riva siblings, and develop their stories a bit further.
Which, ultimately, brings me to my final thoughts on this book - it's a fine book. It didn't take much for me to read it, and I won't be spending an awful lot of time thinking about it now that I've stacked it in my 'read' piles, but it was a perfectly enjoyable way to pass the time while stuck on an airplane. All Jenkins Reid novels are that way - enjoyable, pleasant, perfectly fine; but there's an unfinished quality to the pacing and the storytelling that I really wish she would sort out, because she's got too much talent for every book of hers to read like it's a debut novel.
Anyway. I'm not recommending this book unless you have 2-3 hours you need to meaninglessly fill. God, this review does sound like I've savaged it, right? But I haven't - there's just not enough of substance there for me to savage it, but for the filler book that it is, it's perfectly pleasant.