QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
The Ruins of California
“This novel is for those who love their families with a terrible love and prize filial piety above all things, even though that family—and it’s bound to be overextended—appears bound straight for hell in several different handbaskets…I’m crazy about The Ruins of California. It gives me hope for the whole human race.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post Book World
According to the precocious Inez, life for the Ruin family in 1970s California is complex. Her father, Paul, is self-obsessed, intrusive, opinionated, and profligate, but also brilliant, adoring, magnetic, and liberating. Unable and unwilling to sustain a monogamous relationship, he’s divorced from Inez’s mother, Connie, and claims that he will never marry again, since “marriage is a bad deal for everyone—particularly women.” His intriguing personality and movie-star good looks draw women to him. Inez bears constant witness to the never-ending string of girlfriends that her father loves and then leaves.
Inez is in constant flux between two worlds—one represented by her mother, Connie, an ex-star flamenco dancer, and Connie’s mother, Abuelita, a Peruvian immigrant who works devotedly as a housekeeper for a recording-industry executive. The other holds Paul’s mother—old-money grandmother Ruin, who invites Inez for horse-riding outings and tea parties that are really lessons in refinement. Shuttled back and forth between an innocent, sedate life with Connie and Abuelita in the L.A. suburbs to premature, though thrilling, extravagances with her father in San Francisco, Inez attempts to find a home that is somewhere between the extremes.
As Inez progresses through high school, we are witness to the preoccupations of the era’s typical Californians: drugs, sex, art, surfing, love beads, Nixon, motorcycles. Inez encounters them all in her climb toward maturity, culminating in a trip to Hawaii, where she slides perilously into a drugged oblivion. She makes it out in time, but her beloved half brother is not so lucky—and Inez grows more than she thought possible as she patiently, with love and determination, saves her brother and finds herself.
Martha Sherrill reconstructs time and place in absolute pitch-perfect detail, remarkably rendering an exhilarating and confusing decade of American life.
“A spot-on, detailed narrative of a decade of cultural contrasts…very much alive with sweetness and light.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Like a happy marriage between Joan Didion and Jane Austen.” —Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer-prize-winning author of March and Year of Wonders
“An absolutely note-perfect portrayal of California in the ’70s.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Readers hungry for a coming-of-age story…will warm to Martha Sherrill’s The Ruins of California, a vibrant patchwork of a novel.” —Elle
“Technically perfect characterization in a tale that explores an imperfect family.” —Kirkus
“Sherrill’s re-creation of California in the ’70s is impeccable, and her story of how a girl trapped in a theatrical family manages to transform herself from an observer into the star of her own life is absolutely irresistible” —Booklist (starred review)
ABOUT MARTHA SHERRILL
Martha Sherrill is also the author of The Buddha from Brooklyn, a work of nonfiction, and My Last Movie Star, a novel. She was raised in Los Angeles and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son.