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Malibu Rising


Malibu Rising

Growing up in the 1980s in the Midwest, my primary associations with Malibu were the fake plastic tans and bleached-blond hair of my Malibu Barbie and Ken dolls. But, as Taylor Jenkins Reid’s new novel reminds us, Mattel wasn’t the only company fascinated by Malibu and the exotic, free-spirited lifestyle that the name evokes.

Set over the course of a single 24 hours in late August 1983, MALIBU RISING depicts a Malibu just on the verge of being corporatized and commodified, evolving rapidly from a West Coast paradise enjoyed by beach bums and surfers to one that soon will be out of reach to all but the most affluent.

The 24 hours in question are those leading up to and including Nina Riva’s epic annual end-of-summer party, which this year will take place in the opulent cliffside home she shares (or shared, until very recently) with her husband, who has been conducting a very public affair with a fellow tennis pro. Nina is just 25, but even though she is stunningly beautiful and makes her living as a swimsuit and surfboard model, her life experiences belong to someone much older, as she has been compelled to become both big sister and quasi-mother to her three younger siblings.

"This combination of languid opening, evocative setting and propulsive finish promises to make MALIBU RISING, dare I say it, the beach read of 2021."

For the first half of the novel, the story of the Riva family unfolds in two parallel narratives. One focuses on the present-day situations of the siblings, all of whom are hiding secrets from one another that they fear might come to light during that impending party. The other traces the tragic love story of their parents, Mick and June, from their courtship in the late 1950s through their rocky marriage and Mick’s eventual rise to stardom as one of the biggest singers of his generation --- even though he is a pretty terrible excuse for a father. To use the imagery of fire that appears throughout the novel, this first half starts like a campfire that’s a little slow to take off. It can feel somewhat tedious to switch back and forth between the two chronologies while also trying to figure out who’s who among the siblings.

But all that changes in the second half, when the party gets underway in earnest and the various sparks that were lit in the first part of the narrative catch fire simultaneously, leading to a conflagration that readers might see coming, but they still will find themselves compelled to keep reading to see what happens next. The book is filled with cameos by various 1980s-era celebrities, and Reid’s descriptions of the party’s debaucheries and disasters make for some pretty satisfying schadenfreude. But the real heart of the story are the relationships between Nina and her siblings, who forged an unbreakable bond when they learned to surf together as children and for whom the ocean continues to be a source of healing and wholeness.

Once all the characters are introduced, their motives outlined and the conflicts set in motion, readers won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough to see what happens next. This combination of languid opening, evocative setting and propulsive finish promises to make MALIBU RISING, dare I say it, the beach read of 2021.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 4, 2021

Malibu Rising
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Publication Date: May 17, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 1524798673
  • ISBN-13: 9781524798673