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L.A. Weather

Review

L.A. Weather

From María Amparo Escandón, the award-winning author of ESPERANZA’S BOX OF SAINTS, comes L.A. WEATHER, a lively and sharply written portrait of a Mexican American family on the brink of either a breakdown or redemption. They just can’t tell which one.

For the past year, Keila Alvarado has been living in limbo while her husband, Oscar, once a man of authority and intelligence, has stagnated and regressed into a mere shell of the man she married. Where Oscar was once the strong and galvanizing patriarch of the family, he has now taken to hiding in the many rooms of their Rancho Verde home, obsessively watching the Weather Channel, or sitting in total silence while Keila and their daughters live their lives around him.

Keila is pushed out of her self-imposed fog when her twin granddaughters, Diana and Andrea, nearly drown in the family pool. Though the girls survive by sheer miracle, she is incensed by Oscar’s apathy toward the entire event. He did not even notice that she and the girls were gone for two days as she sat keeping vigil in the waiting room of the hospital. The solution comes to Keila at once, and it is so simple she cannot believe she had not seriously considered it before: divorce.

"Escandón is a gifted writer who is able to braid storylines and ideas together while letting her readers forget that they are being taught a lesson about love, family and resilience."

Keila calls her daughters home for a decadent family dinner where she will reveal the news. Olivia, the oldest of the three girls and mother of the twins, is a successful architect who is still reeling from her fertility struggles, a burden on her marriage to Felix. Claudia, the middle child, is a famous chef who hosts a cooking show and has published two wildly successful cookbooks. Newly married after a whirlwind two-month romance, Claudia and her husband, Gabriel, are still learning the ins and outs of their relationship, marriage and lives together. And then there’s Patricia, the baby of the family, a digital media expert whose clients include Target. Raped as a teen, Patricia is the mother to teenage Daniel and wife to Eric, though she and Daniel live in her parents’ Los Angeles home and Eric resides in San Francisco.

In case it is not obvious, none of the Alvarado children can claim to have a traditional, conventional marriage, yet they are incensed when their mother drops the d-word bomb. As their father sits on as miserably and silently as he has been for the last year, they make one demand: Keila and Oscar must try to save their marriage for one year. If they cannot make it work, the girls will give them their blessings to go through with the divorce.

Naturally, the first order of business is to figure out what exactly is going on with Oscar, and why he has transformed so thoroughly from a respected entrepreneur to a slovenly homebody. But with their father not saying a word, the girls are quick to target Keila. When she, too, buttons up, they each turn inward, examining their marriages, careers, opinions on motherhood and identities as women. All the while, the simmering city of Los Angeles glimmers in the background as California experiences its worst drought in recorded history, with only the promise of El Niño keeping its residents from utter disarray.

Tracing the Alvarados' highs and lows over one calendar year, Escandón introduces us to a tight-knit family as full of tension, secrets and betrayals as they are all-consuming love. As the women grapple with their marriages, she unpacks several deep, complicated questions about life and loyalty, examining with such critical thought the everyday and the mundane that each person's life becomes almost epic in proportion. While I cannot say that I liked every single character all of the time, I often would find myself rooting for one of the ladies only pages after I had been rolling my eyes at her. Escandón fully immerses us in both the family and the particular unit of sisterhood that Olivia, Claudia and Patricia comprise. The book is fast-paced, not only because of the dramatic reveals but because of the breadth of emotion that is covered, celebrated and championed on each page.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolutely glorious descriptions of the scenery, the drought, and the pride felt by families who have made a living off the land. Silt on the surface of a playa is “Desert gold and gravel ghost flowers [looking] toward the sun.” The border of Los Angeles’s shimmering city lights and its wild backyard is the kind of place where “you could discover a deer and her fawn just a few feet away from the eight-lane highway,” mere moments after spotting a mountain lion on your surveillance camera meant to deter thieves, not the unbound wilderness of nature.

As Oscar’s secret comes to light, the relationship between city and country is drawn even tighter, and Escandón pens some of her most gorgeous, lyrical lines. The descendent of rancheros, Oscar feels a great responsibility to “pay tribute to his ancestors’ heritage, their profound pride and respect for this land of promise and possibilities.” His pride, we learn, is a double-edged sword, as it comes with a fundamental responsibility to succeed, one that nearly costs him his life and threatens to upend his decades-long marriage, along with his daughters’ perception of him, their mother and marriage as a whole.

It seems strange to say that a novel full of family dysfunction and global destruction is warm, witty and fun, but L.A. WEATHER is all of that and more. Escandón is a gifted writer who is able to braid storylines and ideas together while letting her readers forget that they are being taught a lesson about love, family and resilience.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 24, 2021

L.A. Weather
by María Amparo Escandón

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250802563
  • ISBN-13: 9781250802569