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“Malibu Rising” by Taylo rJenkins Reid

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Pages
May 31st, 2023


“Maybe our parents’ lives are imprinted within us, maybe the only fate there is is the temptation of reliving their mistakes. Maybe, try as we might, we will never be able to outrun the blood that runs through our veins. Or maybe we are free the moment we are born.”

Nina Riva’s epic Malibu beach party is the setting for this novel – a glamorous gathering of the Who’s Who of Hollywood and the debauchery that inevitably manifests in such a crowd. Famous for a flattering bikini ad and a series of surfing shots, the reluctant sex symbol hosts the annual gathering each year, though Nina does not fit the expectation of a Hollywood host. Nina essentially raised her siblings (Jay, Hud, and Kit) in the absence of their icon father Mick Riva who couldn’t resist the bevy of women at his fingertips, to the dismay of their mother June. The novel focuses on the day of the party in 1983, though it features flashbacks of June and Mick’s courtship on the Malibu shores twenty years before.  

Malibu, in itself, is alluring, as Taylor Jenkins Reid well knows. Her former bestselling novels Daisy Jones & the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo capitalize on the appeal of fame and failure on the West Coast, of beautiful people blessed with talent and transcending tragedy. Unlike the other star-studded books, Malibu Rising explores the family, the challenge of keeping it together and the pull of familiarity amidst disappointment. All the Riva children carry secrets and view the party as a coming-into-the-light occasion. When the secrets collide, the family dynamic is challenged, and the party is upended. Reid alludes to disaster in the early chapter detailing Malibu’s historical propensity to burn. 

As I adored Daisy Jones & the Six’s examination of the 70s rock and roll scene, I anticipated this novel being a return to Reid’s exceptional revisiting of a decade. While some of the 80’s material staples were present, the narrative’s vibe struggled to capture its sentiment. The melodrama felt forced, the fashion was nonexistent, and the party scene failed to capture the magic of the moment, instead exacerbating the inner party dynamics of characters introduced so late in the novel that I didn’t care. 

Reid’s narrative did shine in depicting the freedom and bonding potential of surfing. While essentially a solo sport, the Rivas’ shared passion for the water creates fanciful daydreams of catching the perfect wave and letting the saltwater wash the world away. The anticipation of this novel superseded the experience of reading it, though I remain a Taylor Jenkins Reid fangirl. 

“That is the thing about the water, it is not yours to control. You are at the mercy of nature. That’s what makes surfing feel like more than sport: It requires destiny to be on your side, the ocean must favor you.”