If Dickens were writing in 21st century Los Angeles, he might produce something akin to Bruce Wagner's capacious new novel. Part social commentary, part gothic potboiler, I'll Let You Go is set among the very rich and the very poor, in intersecting worlds of unspeakable excess and shameful want.
At first glance, the Trotters of Bel-Air appear to be one of those fabulously wealthy but hopelessly shallow extended families so familiar on nighttime soaps. But spend just a few minutes behind the baroque edifice of their estate, and it is apparent their world is more David Lynch than Aaron Spelling. The aging patriarch spends most of his time in quest of the perfect design for his tomb, while his wife drifts into dementia. Their son Dodd trots the globe shoring up the family fortune, and their daughter Trinnie is a drug-fueled landscape designer who specializes in topiary mazes. Trinnie's husband Marcus Weiner disappeared long ago.
It is the Trotter grandchildren who are central to what unfolds in the novel. Trinnie's son Tull is a bit of a loner who spends a lot of time with his beloved Great Dane. Cousin Edward is a brilliant invalid afflicted with a disfiguring congenital condition. Edward's sister Lucy is a self-styled "girl detective," and it is her inquiry into the strange secret behind the disappearance of Marcus that leads the trio into the seamy world of downtown L.A. There is a small army of secondary characters, and a tangle of subplots emerge when all their stories begin to intertwine. Trinnie's mazes become the overarching metaphor, with Wagner freely borrowing Borges' dictum that there is no difference between a book and a labyrinth. Wagner's narrative style is unique sometimes lushly romantic, other times acerbically satiric and he tells his tale as a Victorian novelist might have, with parenthetical comments to the reader and even footnotes. But he also fills the book with "inside" Hollywood references. These may seem strange choices for a postmodern novel set in the most postmodern of American cities, but Wagner manages to pull it all off with considerable aplomb.
Bob Weibezahl is a writer in Los Angeles.