By: Laura Antonucci, Columnist
Mary Miller’s debut novel is not your typical coming-of-age story. I have read plenty of books under that genre and this one stands alone. “The Last Days of California” presents ideas that the general public may consider to be from a unique perspective.
“The Last Day of California” is 233 pages of Jess and her observations about herself and her family as they drive across the country from Alabama to California to celebrate the final days of their lives before the rapture happens. Jess is 15 years old, has an older sister, a subservient mother and a pompously evangelistic father. The story is rather slow, with lots of details about surroundings. Oftentimes in the story, Jess compulsively obsesses over particular events until she finally comes to the understanding that the Rapture isn’t going to happen, and that sometimes, things happen that really have no meaning.
Jess, being so young, has only ever known what her father has informed her about the world and how people function within it. Jess also sees her older sister rebelling against her religious family and spiraling out of control. What is interesting about Jess’s observations is that when it comes to her family, she sees them for who they actually are. Her sister, Elise, is no longer satisfied by simple faith, and is on a self-destructive path to feel something other than what her parent’s religion is training her to feel, refusing to be tamed and put on a front for the superficial church group.
Jess’s parents have been out of love for years, and have fallen into the rut of routine of putting on the socially acceptable front for the congregation back in Alabama. But Jess finds the line of personal exploration and parental acceptance, and walks it, managing to not to any lasting emotional damage to herself or her family.
“The Last Days of California” is not for the devout looking for confirmation, or atheistic looking for proof against the church. It is for anyone, looking for hypothetical permission to be themselves. Just like Jess, we all have to find moments of profound understanding, as Jess does herself, when it is least expected.