Synopses & Reviews
The 1990s—Newport Beach, California. Money is God. A mans worth is judged by the size of his boat, the make of his car. A womans value is assessed by the blank perfection of her quantifiable desirability: dress size, cup size, the whiteness of her teeth. And oh yes: her youth. Though Esther Wilson, the heroine of Victoria Pattersons profound and electric debut novel, has the looks to marry well, things arent going as planned. Shes nearing her mid-30s and possibly aging out of the only role shes equipped to play: wife to a powerful member of the elite. Instead, Esther finds herself drawn to college professor Charlie Murphy, who challenges her and offers an alternative vision—one that he himself might not have the courage to follow.
In the tradition of Edith Wharton and Henry James and their great social novels of the turn of the century, This Vacant Paradise recasts the important questions about our very American obsessions: class, caste, race, age, and the roles of men and women in our drive toward an ever more lofty sense of our upward mobility, where even churchgoing is a method of networking.
Victoria Patterson, author of the story collection Drift, a Story Prize and California Book Award finalist, gives us a novel of such rigor and complexity that it feels too masterful to be her first. Like ZZ Packer or Robert Stone, Pattersons prose is at once wickedly entertaining and searingly intelligent in its quest to consider whether the myth of American freedom and social mobility might be just that. The world of Esther Wilson is compelling and full of the vapid culture that produces train-wreck reality TV: nothing good will come of this and yet you cannot look away.
Praise for This Vacant Paradise
"Patterson beautifully parses the consequences of one woman's fall in this memorable, penetrating, fully achieved novel." The New York Times Book Review
"Patterson writes with the exuberance of a natural storyteller. Her cast is rich, her narrative sinuous and masterfully structured." San Francisco Chronicle
"With echoes of a modern-day House of Mirth, Pattersons elaborate tale examines the complexities and contradictions of society, family, and personal desire." Booklist
"Considering the subject matterthe real housewives of Orange CountyPatterson's debut novel (after story collection Drift) is surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced. In debt and unmarried, Esther Wilson works at a clothing boutique and lives with her wealthy grandmother, Eileen, whose financial generosity is orchestrated to "encourage dependence." Terrified of poverty, Esther is in the midst of securing a proposal from an unattractive but wealthy heir, but she blows it. Enter ex-boyfriend Charlie Murphy, who, though from a well-off family, is a liberal-minded sociology professor at the local community college, and therefore an object of Eileen's derision. Charlie takes it upon himself to emancipate Esther from the chains of vapid privilege, but with a huge inheritance imminent for him and nasty gossip circulating about Esther, Charlie's lefty enlightenment dims. As an acerbic commentary on mid-'90s Southern Californian excess, the novel walks a fine line between critic and unintentional participantcommentaries on the retrograde position of Orange County women jostle against overindulgent physical descriptionthough Patterson's Southern California has echoes of Nathanael West and early Bruce Wagner." Publishers Weekly
This Vacant Paradise is that truly rare thing, a first novel that arrives with its writer working at the height of her intellectual gifts and creative powers.” Jane Vandenburgh, author of Architecture of the Novel and A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century
This is an exceptional novel, populated by several memorable and deftly rendered characters, each presented with nuance and compassion. Patterson taps deeply into their humanity, and the outcome is striking and dark.” Michael Jaime-Becerra, author of This Time Tomorrow
This Vacant Paradise is an enthralling reinterpretation of The House of Mirth that reminds us that there are contemporary Lily Barts. Esther Wilsonwhat a character! Her sense of integrity and her desire for love are so understandable, yet they continually bring her into conflict with her materialistic family and acquaintances in Newport Beach. Has the last hundred years of advances in womens rights made a difference to the woman raised to marry for money? Victoria Patterson asks this fascinating question, and the answer makes for a completely engaging novel.” Alice Elliott Dark, author of Think of England and In the Gloaming
Praise for Drift
Set against the affluence of Newport Beach, Pattersons debut collection often focuses on the enclavesoutcasts, waitstaff, divorcées, alcoholics, and drug addictsas her characters confront personal battles, the limits of friendship, and the bleary anticipation of a different life. Pattersons thirteen engaging tales offer keen perspectives on life lived on the fringe.” Booklist
Pattersons unflinching account of the seedy side of a real-life Xanadu is frightening, immersive, and wonderfully realized.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Victoria Pattersons Newport Beach is a privileged world of wealth and heedless consumption that trails a wake of human damage. By giving us nuanced portraits of the sidelined, she somehow evokes the complex, glittering whole. Patterson is our generations heir to John OHara and Edith Wharton. And nobody else writes about female sexuality with such sensitivity and fearlessness. Several times, I had to put this book down just to catch my breath.” Michelle Huneven, author of Jamesland and Round Rock
Victoria Pattersons beautiful stories break our hearts as they inform us. Through her characters we see the complications and trauma of not fitting in with ones surroundings, in a version of California we are rarely allowed to see. Haunting, affirming, and often comic, her stories make the reader grateful for this writers documentation of our human alienationand our unexpected bonds. Patterson is a gifted storyteller, a fresh, essential new voice.” Dana Johnson, author of Break Any Woman Down
Victoria Patterson has enormous talent and I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more from her.” James Lee Burke, author of the Dave Robicheaux series
If I could write just a single story as beautiful and heartbreaking and intelligent as the thirteen linked together in Drift, Im pretty sure that I could die a happy man. Victoria Patterson makes me envious as hell, and I applaud her for it.” Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff
Story Prize and California Book Award finalist Victoria Patterson revisits Newport Beach in This Vacant Paradise
, examining the intersections of economics, class, race, sex, and family expectations during the mid-1990s. Esther lives with her grandmother, a virulent matriarch who controls her family through her wealth. Esther knows that an advantageous marriage replete with social standing, familial and peer approval, and financial rewards will alleviate her struggles. College dropout, fashion boutique clerk, caregiver for a drug-addicted brother, Esther is also aware that beauty and an uncanny savvy foretell success. But she has been known to self-sabotage, and her peers and family are rooting for her not to blow it with her latest beau, especially since, at the ripe age of thirty-three, Esthers desirability is on the cusp of decline.
All is well until she begins a tumultuous love affair with Charlie, a local college professor known for his unconventional ideals as much as for his good looks. He sets a fire inside Esther, delivering herwhether by choice or notfrom the insular, safe, and stifling confines of societal expectations to an alternate and indefinable course. The result is a stunning debut novel: a powerful work of fiction sure to provoke and engage.
"Patterson beautifully parses the consequences of one woman's fall in this memorable, penetrating, fully achieved novel." --The New York Times Book Review
Story Prize and California Book Award finalist Victoria Patterson revisits Newport Beach in This Vacant Paradise, examining the intersections of economics, class, race, sex, and family expectations during the mid-1990s.
Esther lives with her grandmother, a virulent matriarch who controls her family through her wealth. Esther knows that an advantageous marriage replete with social standing, familial and peer approval, and financial rewards will alleviate her struggles. But she has been known to self-sabotage, and her loved ones are rooting for her not to blow it with her latest beau, especially since she's at the ripe old age of thirty-three.
All is well until she begins a tumultuous love affair with Charlie, a local college professor known for his unconventional ideals as much as for his golf game and good looks. He sets a fire inside Esther, sparking and delivering her--whether by choice or not--from the insular, safe, and stifling confines of societal expectations to an alternate, unglamorous, and indefinable course. The result is a stunning debut novel: a powerful work of fiction sure to provoke and engage.
"Patterson writes with the exuberance of a natural storyteller. Her cast is rich, her narrative sinuous and masterfully structured." --San Francisco Chronicle
"Considering the subject matter--the real housewives of Orange County--Patterson's debut novel (after story collection Drift) is surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced." --Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Victoria Patterson is the author of the story collection Drift
, which was a finalist for the Commonwealth Club Award and the Story Prize. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times
, the Alaska Quarterly Review
, and the Southern Review
. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Writers Extension and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.