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Wednesday, September 5th, 2001


Lightning Field


A review by Adrienne Miller

GIST: An exciting first novel about L.A. and the messy, groundless lives it produces.

DETAILS: It's a difficult task, to write about a place that's been so written about, so studied, so filmed. What is there to say about L.A. that hasn't already been said? How to recreate it? Interestingly, and against all odds, Spiotta succeeds in making L.A. her own: It's a place where culture may be stupid, but people are not. Amen to that.

Mina, our protagonist, is a gorgeous woman, "sophisticated" in all the corporate-produced ways (her $300 cashmere tights being just one example), with both a husband and a lover, a difficult father and an out-of-it brother. Lightning Field seems intensely influenced by Underworld-era DeLillo, right down to the garbage obsession ("I think there are these people who analyze these things — what a person's trash says about them, their dirt, the kind of debris they create. I think it's supposed to be quite telling"), and one does get the sense that the author might be trying too hard for the grand pronouncement ("The Santa Ana, the San Diego, the San Gabriel, the Pomona — freeways named for their origins or destinations like rivers. But how could that be, a freeway ending? Wasn't the very point that they became an endless, seamless circle?"), but you've got to give Spiotta credit for taking such big swings, for daring these days to write a novel of ideas. A wise and artful debut.

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