Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.
By midnight the party will be completely out of control.
By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames.
But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.
Lifestyle of the rich and the famous! Taylor Jenkins Reid’s literary novel Malibu Rising explores one unforgettable night in the life of a wealthy, famous family, where everyone is forced to confront their mistakes and their secrets. Malibu Rising is a beautiful, delightful and enchanting novel, whisking readers away on an emotional journey through time.
Whilst the story moves back and forth between decades, the main storyline is that of the present — the four children of famous singer-songwriter Mick Riva are planning a Malibu party. The events of the book take place over 24 hours in 1983, where eldest daughter Nina is reeling from a failed marriage and cheating husband.
Sporadic chapters propel us back to 1956, where Nina’s mother, June, meets Mick. He’s not yet famous, and over the course the novel we follow their love story. Despite sharing an instant connection, he is not loyal nor is he a faithful husband. After a string of affairs and disappearances, and June’s descend into alcoholism, suddenly Nina must take on the role of caregiver for her three younger siblings. It’s a role she adopts for most of her adult life.
“Now here he was, nearly a year later, barricaded from his own house. But he’d known from the very moment he punched the mirror that this was looming. Maybe he’d known long before that, too. Maybe he’d always known he couldn’t escape himself.”
Taylor’s writing is inviting and emotional — we grow to love Nina and her siblings, we sympathise for them, we root for them. But June’s story is as tragic as Nina’s. She’s sweet-hearted and full of hope. She has dreams that exceed what her parents expect of her. She wants to do more than just take over her parents’ fish and chip shop — she wants to find love and have children and she wants to be blissfully happy. And when she meets Mick, she naively thinks he’ll give that to her.
Nina and her siblings have bonded over quite tragic of circumstances. Even betrayal is short-lived between them, because they’ve weathered worse during their childhoods. Taylor Jenkins Reid has crafted four young characters who have all been broken by the absence of their father — his rejection of them. Their mother did the best she could, but any success they possess is of their own doing, and they’ve spent their relatively short lives purely trying to survive, and I can imagine it’d be exhausting.
“Nina grew more and more anxious with every second. He could fall off, he could lose the board, he could break his leg or his hand or go under. Nina quietly calculated how she would save him, or what she would say if the owner showed up, how she could handle all of this if it went south.”
The novel centres around an infamous and raucous party, but it’s worth noting the party doesn’t really kick off until at least halfway through the novel. For most of the story, we’re in June’s timeline. By the time the party rolls around, the events of the evening seem a bit squished together in an unnatural, fast-paced scene.
Admittedly, the ending did feel a bit farfetched. Not the fire, which is teased in the prologue. But the confrontations between the siblings, and the resolution of Nina’s journey in the book. It all felt a little stretched and over the top, particularly in the dialogue — like a caricature of reality. In most scenes that feature Mick, present or past, his dialogue can border on cringeworthy.
“So Nina knew she couldn’t cancel a party like that. The Rivas might not be like most families, being just the four of them, but they had their traditions. And anyway, there was no good way to cancel a party that never had any invitations. People were coming, whether she wanted them there or not.”
Malibu Rising is recommended for readers of contemporary fiction, and romance. The novel moves between the 1950s-1980s, so those of you who love reading stories set during these decades will appreciate the setting. Readership skews female, 25+
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Taylor Jenkins Reid
Penguin Random House Publishers