Malibu Rising: A Novel

Image of Malibu Rising: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 25, 2021
Ballantine Books
Reviewed by: 

“If you have two days that you’re not using for anything in particular—well, even if you have plans, put them away, pick up this book—they will be two days well spent.”

There is fire, and then there is fire, and in her new book, Malibu Rising Taylor Jenkins Reid addresses both as she takes the reader through one summer, and lots of history, of the Riva family.

She introduces the reader to California fire with the first line, “Malibu catches fire.” And the rest is just following the clues she adeptly lays out for us.

Nina Riva, the oldest of four children of celebrity Mick Riva, is the primary protagonist of the story, although each of the children is designed to add their own history.

When the story starts it is August, 1983, and Nina Riva is preparing for the annual end-of-the-summer party of the year. The party anyone who is anyone will attend—movie stars, famous athletes, film moguls, and anyone who just hears about it and wants to be seen.

In many circumstances, when an author moves back and forth in time, the read can become tedious, if not just plain annoying. But Reid deftly uses this technique to bring the Riva family into play for three decades.

Throughout the story, Reid develops her characters through travels back in time starting when Mick Riva meets June Costas and it is, presumably, love at first sight. His career has not yet taken off, and she is the daughter of restaurant owners in Malibu.

Their relationship blossoms, she becomes pregnant, and their marriage starts with Nina’s birth. It doesn’t take long before Jay appears in the family, and their love holds everything together. Until it doesn’t.

As Mick’s career takes off and his appearances multiply, his eye wanders, and one day a young woman shows up at the door with a baby boy that she hands over to June, declaring she can’t handle this. It’s Mick’s baby and should have a family. And so, Hud enters the family picture. June, being the woman that she is, grows to love this child as if he were her own.

June’s initial anger with Mick slowly abates and Katherine (Kit) appears to round out the family. The marriage does not last and Mick divorces June, leaving her with the children and no means of support.

Throughout this introduction to the children and their life with June, Reid brings the reader back into the current day of the story where she further develops the depth of each sibling. To do this, she brings June into the story’s history as she tumbles into alcoholism. Mick does not acknowledge his ex-wife’s demise, nor does he reconnect with his kids.

It is now up to Nina, being the oldest, to be the one most responsible for keeping the family together and the one who gives up the most to ensure their safety. Times are tough, money is not available except through the family restaurant—until one day as she is surfing, she is noticed by an agent, and a new life begins for Nina and her siblings.

Add to this mix that brother Jay, whose passion is surfing, is turning that passion into a profession. Brother Hud is moving into photography as a career and his photos of brother Jay’s surfing skills advances both careers. Baby sister Kit, also a surfer, has not come into her own yet, but she is protected by the others and knows that she will be moving into something soon.

And so, Reid takes each sister and brother and brings them to life with growing fame and notoriety and in spite of small family skirmishes, they each remain steadfast in their support of each other.

In the second half of the book, the annual party takes on a life of its own. And it is at the party that Reid cleverly uses fire as a metaphor for family relationships as she blows flames into various players who arrive at the party and partake of the drugs, the alcohol, the music, and their goal of destruction—a blaze, indeed.

Reid’s clarity and depth in introducing the partygoers makes the reader feel as if they are there, watching the event, taking part in it. One sees the cocaine being sniffed, watches the guest using the chandelier as a swing, ducks as fine china is used as frisbees, and participates in the conversations on every topic imaginable.

The family relationship takes a shift at the party, and yet Reid shows the depth of the love they share as issues rise and fall, while the Malibu mansion burns, figuratively.

The surprise at the party is when Mick shows up—the only person to have received an actual invitation. Kit has been sending him one for years, and he’s been ignoring it. But now, as time raises an inviting finger to the aging star, he realizes that perhaps he can reacquaint himself with his children. They are having none of that.

If you have two days that you’re not using for anything in particular—well, even if you have plans, put them away, pick up this book—they will be two days well spent.