America, like Australia, is endowed with a plethora of great migrant success stories. Nowhere in America is there a veritable melting pot of nationalities and cultures more abundant than the perpetually buzzing metropolis of Los Angeles, in the state of California.
It is in Los Angeles that Mexican author, screenwriter, advertising creative director and producer, Maria Amparo Escandon, has set her latest novel, “L.A. Weather”. The novel centres on the trials and triumphs of the Alvarado family, a wealthy Mexican American family, in addition to chronicling the unpredictable life-altering variables of the Los Angeles and it’s surrounds weather in 2016.
Patriarch Oscar, who is sixty years old and retired, has been in a debilitating slump for a year, habitually watching the Weather Channel on television for hours on end, and keeping meticulous notes on the weather and it’s unforgiving patterns.
Matriarch Keila, an artist, is unequivocally exasperated by Oscar’s seemingly never-ending apathy and melancholy ways, and announces at a family dinner at the beginning of the year that she wants to divorce Oscar.
Career-driven and high-achieving daughters, Claudia, Olivia and Patricia are vehemently shocked and aghast at Keila’s declaration and persuade Keila and Oscar to give the marriage another year, during which they should work on reconnecting. Keila and Oscar agree to this fervent request by their upset daughters.
Claudia is a phenomenally successful chef, running a well-patronised catering business, as well doing a television cooking show which is watched by millions and being a popular cook book author. She is married to Gabriel, who works liaising with authors, publishers, “movie studios, TV networks” and “streaming platforms” for stories to be told. Claudia and Gabriel are ‘living the life’ at their beach house at Malibu, or are they?
Middle daughter Olivia, and architect, is married to Felix, a Realtor (real estate agent), and they have two young daughters, Andrea and Diana.
Patricia, the youngest daughter at twenty-eight years old, is living at home with her parents and her teenage son, Daniel in West Los Angeles. Patricia is a social-media entrepreneur and is remotely married (the two live in different cities but link up regularly) to Frenchman Eric, now a U.S. citizen.
It transpires that Oscar has, several years earlier, bought an Almond Orchard, the “Happy Crunch Almond Orchard” outside of Los Angeles, unknown to his family, and he is deeply anguished, as “Los Angeles had recorded it’s driest five-year period in one hundred and forty years”, meaning he may lose the entire crop.
Can Keila and Oscar salvage their tired marriage, and can Oscar save his prized almond crop? In addition, are Claudia, Olivia and Patricia living the perfect lives that they are projecting to the outside world?
Not only do the Alverados have to contend with drought in this eventful year for themselves and Los Angeles, but also fires, at one stage being forced to evacuate, and a multitude of other life-changing problems.
Maria Amparo Escandon has deftly and cleverly woven in to the plot of “L.A. Weather” the migrant experience in L.A., not only that of the wealthy Alverados, but also the unskilled Mexican migrants who tend Oscar’s almond orchard, a work party known as “Los Tres Primos”, which includes Lucas, Mario and Saul. Olivia also employs Mexican migrants in her business.
At Sunset Boulevard, Keila sees that “Latinos from across the diaspora – Mexicans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans – waited for the bus….most of them heading to their second or third job”.
The novel also mentions the despair when Trump is elected President in November of 2016 (Trump had brutal anti-immigrant policies) and also expertly addresses the subject of climate change; both topics written so poignantly in this illuminating novel. As Oscar says to his family, “We need to work together as a family to compensate for those dark and powerful forces that are working against harmony in our country and on our planet”. Oscar realises that, in the wake of Trump’s election (Trump is never mentioned by name), “He knew there wasn’t much he could do for all the Mexicans who would suffer the wrath and bigotry of the newly elected president of the United States. So he wept.”
Maria Amparo Escandon has written a taut family drama, with all it’s nuanced frailties and outlooks, interspersed with themes of climate change and the migrant experience in modern America..
Maria has written a novel of searingly thoughtful and timely insights. The backdrop of L.A. and it’s surrounding environs is beautifully depicted. We are given an insight into what it means to be a migrant, or the descendant of a migrant, in America today; those living the dream and those on the edges of society.
“L.A. Weather” (a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick) is intelligent, insightful and simultaneously beautiful and transcendent. I really enjoyed this book.