Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

August 14, 2022
Bestselling Family Sagas Set in Southern California During WWII Tackle Issues of Immigration, Identity, and Internment
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra. Many independent booksellers are fans of Marra's writing, and his newest shouldn't disappoint them. His first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and his short story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno, are staples of most indie bookstore shelves, and his new novel has been greatly anticipated for months. The story begins in Mussolini's Italy, settles in 1940s Hollywood, and stars Maria Lagana, who flees from Rome to Los Angeles with her mother after a childhood transgression leads to her father’s arrest. 

On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won’t speak to her. Her boyfriend, a Chinese American actor, can’t escape the studio’s typecasting. And the studio itself teeters on the verge of bankruptcy, even as it becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father’s past threatens Maria’s carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father’s fate—and her own.

One of Marra's gifts is his ability to create interesting and compassionate characters. In Mercury Pictures Presents, he also reveals a real wit and creates scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny - no easy trick in a book set during WWII that also tackles issues of identity, immigration, propaganda and censorship. In its glowing review, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, "It asks the big questions: What happens when the entire world is torn asunder and then remade? How do people restore themselves and find their new place? What can marginalized people—women, immigrants, people of color, refugees—do to wrest control of their own lives in the face of institutionalized discrimination? And it answers, as all good fiction does, by enthralling its readers with stories that are personal, alive and heartbreaking. . . . You’ll laugh, you’ll cry in the marvelous Mercury Pictures Presents.”
Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins. The author of Evidence of Things Unseen, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award, returns with a sweeping work of historical fiction centering on a Southern California ranch family in the 1940s who find themselves impacted by World War II in significant and unimagined ways.

Rockwell "Rocky" Rhodes is the patriarch of the family. He's spent years fiercely protecting his California ranch from the LA Water Corporation, mourning the death of his wife, and raising their twins, Sunny and Stryker. As the children approach adulthood, Stryker joins the war effort and is deployed to Pearl Harbor shortly before the Japanese attack. At home and determined to protect Sunny, Rocky faces a new challenge when the government decides to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to his ranch. Complicating matters is the the idealistic Department of the Interior man assigned to build the camp, who slowly begins to understand the horror of his task even as he becomes infatuated with Sunny.

Writing about Properties of Thirst In its starred review, Booklist called the book a "grand novel of principled and creative individuals caught in the vise of history," and added: "Loss, desire, moral dilemmas, reflection, and zesty dialogue with the do-good energy of Frank Capra films generate a WWII home front tale of profound and far-ranging inquiry and imagination, scintillating humor, intrepid romance, and conscience.”