She agrees to be photographed — and soon Nina is “the most popular female surfer in the world,” featured on magazine covers and a calendar, in which all 12 months are photos of Nina. July in particular (her white string bikini had not been as opaque as she’d been led to believe) becomes a sensation, “blown up into posters that would hang in teenage boys’ bedrooms and closets and lockers for years to come.” Nina is a reluctant sex symbol, convincingly and sympathetically so.
Reid’s dialogue wants to capture the tone of the young, the beautiful and athletic, but much of it feels lazy to the point of being cringe-worthy. The dialogue and interior monologue can be juvenile, filled with repeated expletives that can’t be quoted here, but wear thin and detract from the overall effect, rather than adding to the portrait of these characters, as Reid presumably intends.
It was fine and fitting in Reid’s previous book, “Daisy Jones & The Six,” a fictional oral history of a rock band. But “Malibu Rising” is a different kind of novel, with a voice that could have used elevating.
Also wearying is the reliance on superlatives. Mick is “one of the most famous men in the world.” Nina’s party guests include a guy who is “writing some of the biggest hits of the decade,” “one of the most beautiful women in the world” and “the greatest female tennis player of all time.” Surely this is social satire; Reid is mocking Hollywood fame, but it’s not entirely clear what is tongue-in-cheek.
What a party it is! Hundreds come and they can’t control themselves. They trash the place gleefully; there’s “broken glass and vomit and passed-out half-naked bodies and two people doing lines off a silver platter.” Someone swings from a chandelier; another pees on a Lichtenstein. No one calls the police until a bullet hits a mirror — finally! — and then they only exacerbate the mayhem. It’s not a great sign that approximately three-quarters of the way through the 170 pages devoted to the party, I remembered that I was supposed to find the hyperbolic antics funny while deducing that fame produces nightmare guests.
Because the novel begins with a short, nicely portentous chapter reminding us that “it is Malibu’s nature to burn,” we are prepared. We wait for the party to ignite, wondering who among the drunken, stoned or marauding guests or family members will bring about the inevitable.
By the end of “Malibu Rising,” the Riva siblings will learn several truths. They’ll get an answer to the lifelong question: Will their absent, celebrated father ever come back? Even when a fire claims an estate and rolls down the coast; even after the trauma, the betrayals, the distress, the fisticuffs — or perhaps because of them — we leave the party knowing that we don’t have to worry about the Rivas.