Let’s make one thing clear: if you’re going to sit down and indulge in this text, you better have some thick skin. Not thick in the sense that you need to be unaffected by what you read, rather, thick skinned to be able to hang with this motley crew cast of characters. Heather Cox’s California King is chock full of personalities that are likable and those you truly love to hate (and some of them fall into both categories simultaneously). Cox plunges readers deep down the rabbit hole with a protagonist who manages to get under your skin, tuck away, and make her home there. You want to dislike Heather (the main character, not the author), dislike her codependence and her cycle of self destructiveness, but her firm resolve manages to be her saving grace. The striking documentation of identity is fascinating and so thoroughly accurate at the same time.
Cox delivers quite a few surprising blows throughout the novel, much like true life itself. After the the untimely death of her husband, widow Heather moves to the West Coast to find both new beginnings and old habits. As she finds herself drawn between two romances, that of Bobby and Don, the three become interspersed to form a calamitous triptych. Bobby, the misanthrope, draws Heather into the epitome of a toxic relationship, with the reliance on co-dependency; addicted to drugs, addicted to each other. Don, Bobby’s antithesis, is not without his own set of cruxes. Within gritty narrative, Cox weaves together a single story that is, in fact, the story of many; an E pluribus unum of sorts, if you may.
“The Boulevard seemed to belong to me now and no one else. So ugly. So very very ugly… I was the Empress of Shit now. And no one could take that away from me. I took the cigarette from my mouth. I ashed and returned it to my lips.”
It’s raw. It’s real. And as you move through the discomfort that this novel inevitably invokes within you, you find yourself eventually thrust into throws of passion and tumult, caught up in the will to survive and the deep desire for life itself.
Yet, as you wade through the egregious drug addictions and the perpetual high that this book induces, out of the haze forms something quite remarkable. It’s a matter-of-fact account of Hollywood life in the ‘80s, spattered with vividly realistic dialogue and accurate accounts of daily life in the world of miscreants, lovers, addicts, and martyrs. It’s a strikingly honest account of love, life, and the drugs which sustain them.
TRIGGER WARNING: This novel deals with physical and substance abuse and may be triggering to some people.