The end of the world is nearly nigh. Well it is according to one southern family, the main characters in Mary Miller’s charming and heartfelt debut novel’ The Last Days of California’.
With the rapture upon them they opt to spend their last days on earth driving from their home in Montgomery, Alabama to California in time for their ascent to heaven.
Told through the eyes of 15 year-old Jess the trip exposes the vulnerabilities of a family that many would describe as dysfunctional but which most of us would describe as well, just a family.
From her beautiful, secretly pregnant 17 year-old sister Elsie to her long-suffering mother to her deluded, overweight and diabetic father, each character is beautifully and sympathetically drawn. Their religious quest, driven by their delusional father, becomes symbolic of every man’s desire to feel special in the face of a world that makes you feel anything but.
Jess as our narrator is the soul of the book and her journey is perhaps the most traumatic as she struggles to love herself in the face of a world she has decided is indifferent to her (which of course only makes her seem more lovable to the reader.)
The whole piece is beautifully observed with a style that is part JD Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, part Flannery O’Conner and part Sissy Spacek’s character Holly, from Terence Malick’s Badlands.
In a way I’m surprised that more attention has not been given to this little gem of a book that could easily sit along side classics like ‘The Outsiders’.
In fact if the world has more books to offer like ‘The Last Days of California’ I hope it sticks around for a few more years.