From one of our most astute contemporary writers comes an irreverent, inventive portrait of the state of California and its unlikely governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The prizewinning author, a lifelong easterner and an outsider in the West, takes the reader on a picaresque journey from exclusive Hollywood soirees to a fantasy city in the Mojave desert, from the La Brea Tar Pits to celebrity-besotted Sacramento, from the tents of Skid Row to surf-drunk Malibu, from a snowbird retreat near Mexico to the hippie preserve of tide-beaten Big Sur, along the way offering up sharp observations on politics, fund-raising, the water supply, the Beach Boys, earthquake preparedness, home economics, catastrophism, movie-star politicians, political movie stars, Charlie Manson, and location scouts who want to rent your house in order to make television commercials for bathroom wall cleansers or Swedish banks.
Wilentz moved to Los Angeles from a Manhattan wounded by September 11, only to discover a paradise marred by fire, flood, and mudslides. In what seemed like a joke to her, a Democratic governor nicknamed Gumby was about to be ousted by an Austrian muscleman in a bizarre election promoted by a millionaire whose business was car alarms. Intrigued, she set out to find the essence of the quirky, trailblazing state. During her travlels, she spots celebrities but can’t quite place them, drops in on famous salons with habitués like Warren Beatty and Ariana Huffington, and visits the neglected office of one very special 9,000-year-old woman.
Plunging into the traffic of California, Wilentz noodles out meaning in some of the least likely of places; she sees the political in the personal and the personal in the political. By now an expert on tremors real and imagined, she offers readers on both coasts insights into where California stands today, and America as well.
“This is the way to travel through California – as a passenger on Amy Wilentz’s remarkable, funny, and vivid trip through the Land of Schwarzenegger. She has a sharp eye, a cool wit, a lyrical tone, a reporter’s gumption, and a grasp of the place’s strangeness and allure that makes the book entirely unforgettable.”
– Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief
“I love the way Amy Wilentz pokes here and pokes there and thinks about this and contemplates that, and pretty soon you are seeing California as you have never seen it before. This is a compellingly readable book, and I want another installment!”
– Jane Smiley, author of Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel
“As Amy Wilentz documents in this delightful romp of a memoir, it takes true grit – and a capacity for improvisation – to leave the certainties of the East behind and start life all over again on the coast of dreams.”
– Kevin Starr, author of Inventing the Dream and Coast of Dreams
Read full-length reviews from The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.