In the sublimely picturesque environs of coastal California, lies the small, overrun with overwhelmingly rich and famous inhabitants, much envied and recognised beachside community enclave of Malibu (about 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles). It is here, in Malibu, that American author, Taylor Jenkins Reid, has set her recently released latest novel, “Malibu Rising”.
The twist is that the novel takes place predominantly in August, 1983, on the day leading up to, and then the night and subsequent morning of, the much renowned end of summer party that is held annually by the Riva siblings – Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit. This year it is being held at Nina’s luxurious mansion, which sits atop a sharp cliff in Malibu.
Nina is 25 years old, married to tennis pro Brandon, and is herself a meteorically successful supermodel and surfer. Her younger brother, Jay (24), is a world famous surfer, Hud (23) is a renowned photographer, and Kit (20) is a also a keen surfer.
We, as readers, are taken on a memorable journey laden with the tumultuous early years of the Riva dynasty, interspersed with the 1983 party build up and execution. We begin learning of the Riva family origins, starting with the meeting of parents, Mick and June, on the beach in Malibu one sublime summer’s day in 1956. Mick goes on to marry June twice (later abandoning her after both marriages). June gives birth to the four children in quick succession, and Mick, while maintaining a cruel absence from his family, rises into the same musical stratosphere as a crooning Frank Sinatra, as a world renowned singer (refusing at the same time to support his offspring financially or emotionally).
Growing up in Malibu in the 1960s and 1970s proves to be an idyllic escape for the Riva children from their many family troubles (money is tight, June is an alcoholic and Mick is completely absent from their lives). A salve for the children’s wounds welcomingly appears when they each discover, and subsequently thrive on, a love of the surf at Malibu. Becoming highly proficient wave surfers from a young age, Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit’s lives’ become ingrained in the lure of the ocean, and it is this fact that saves them all from becoming encompassed by a life of despondency.
At the house party at Nina’s in 1983, everyone whose anyone in America is attending. Party guests include those from the movie industry (actors, directors and producers), rock stars, surfers, television actors and loyal staff from Riva’s seafood restaurant, which has been owned by the Riva family since June’s parents’ ran it in the early days.
The few hundred party goers – fuelled by scandalous amounts of alcohol, cocaine and arrogant bravado – don’t take too long to completely trash Nina’s house. Reckless antics indulged in by the revellers include swinging off chandeliers, smashing the good china against the walls and having sex in the bathrooms. When a random gunshot rings out in the early hours of the morning, we realise things have gone too far.
Being from a family of beach lovers, I could relate to the surf mentality and unreserved love of the ocean that the Riva children possess in abundance. Having such a strong and thriving beach culture in Australia, the surfing culture described in this novel is exceedingly similar to the one enjoyed by many Australians of all ages.
If you want to be transported to a simpler, and perhaps more naive time and place, in a beachside locale that is now world famous, yet for a time was joyfully lived in by numerous surfers chasing the perfect wave, then this is a book you will enjoy reading.