What goes on in the creative mind of a former mortician, model and production designer? In the case of author Heather Cox, the answer is a dialog-driven, swerving tale of addiction, darkness, and obsessive love. California King is her first novel, and despite all its creaky planks and rough edges, it's an interesting untamed piece of storytelling. Set in early 1980s Hollywood, the novel follows the rambling, sometimes stumbling, journey of a self-destructive young widow, also named Heather. She runs away from old pains of lost love into the arms of sometimes sparkling, but often seedy and sad, new agonies via two love relationships. One is with the warmhearted yet wayward musician Don. The other is with the consummate bad boy Bobby. Heather (the character) is as street-smart as she is desperate, often living out her own subconscious desires through connections with people who are more ruthless and impossibly lost than she is. She finds these people by putting herself in the most precarious of positions or hanging around in dangerous places. Her story makes a few sharp turns here and there with new characters popping out of nowhere, like the older and wiser Gideon who quips in a single line the book's entire revelation: "Punk rock boys just wanna use you and I'm not that lonely or stupid." But overall, it's a solid effort that fearlessly explores the real underbelly of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll world we all tend to glamorize at one time or another.
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