The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Colby, Bev, Meg, and Alexa have just graduated from high school, and they’re going on tour of the Pacific Northwest in a turquoise Volkswagen bus named Melinda. The Disenchantments are a terrible riot-grrl inspired band with their own pet boy/chauffeur/truth-speaker. They have less than two weeks to tour the Pacific Northwest before they deposit Meg at college in Portland, Alexa returns to S.F. and high school, and Colby and Bev fly to Europe for Big Adventure (and tulips). So when Bev informs Colby on their first day out of the city that she’ll be going to college at RISD instead of to Europe , it not only crushes his heart but throws his whole future (and the tour) into question. The show must go on and as Melinda wends her way along the California coast the four teenagers learn about each other and themselves, the world outside San Francisco and high school, and the difference between dreaming big and doing big.
A few weeks ago I read Lola and the Boy Next Door, and noted that the San Francisco of that novel was a sort of Disney-fied, Full House version of the real deal. The Disenchantments is legit. By the eighteenth page I knew that a Bay Area native had written this book, and checking out the author blurb confirmed. It’s in the locations, the setting description, the way that the characters view themselves and others…it’s in the dialogue:
“Why the fuck not steal a tool kit? That shit is useful.”
I laughed out loud so many time reading this novel just because the venues, conversations, and observations are just so dead-on. The Disenchantments tour takes them up the California coast to Arcata, a truly singular place where I finished my college degree. Again, it was clear that the author had not only been to Arcata, but actually lived there. It would be so easy to slip into stereotypes for that little city where the sixties never ended. The description of driving into Fort Bragg, scene of The Disenchantments first disenchanting experience, where the world goes gray is hilariously accurate.
The novel is very rich due to the author’s genuine familiarity with the people and places she is writing about: the hopelessness of Fort Bragg, the anything-can-happen weirdness of Arcata*, the initial appeal and swift boredom of Weaverville, and the clean promise of Portland. The girls and Colby discover that nothing about their summer is turning into what they thought it would be, but in some ways it’s better, because it’s real. Each of the characters has a distinct perspective and journey, and LaCour blends these and their journey together into a rich, true-to-life narrative.
The character development in this novel is outstanding. Each character is so well written that by novel’s end I felt like I could predict what each would do in any given situation. La Cour juggles the complexities of the different relationships beautifully: Alexa and Meg as sisters who are different but loving, Colby’s love for Bev but his uncertainty about her feelings, Bev as the guarded frontwoman for the band and social group. It stirred up a lot of emotion: I felt angry, happy, sad, melancholy, hopeful…the full range while reading this novel.
It’s a beautiful journey written with love by an insider. East-Coasters just don’t write West-Coasters like this. Satisfying.
*Café Mokka (the Finnish hot tubs) is a real place, The Alibi serves nasty-delicious bar/comfort food, and The Disenchantments probably would have played The Green House.