Book Club: The Girls from Corona Del Mar
'Uniquely beautiful, with images that make you want to clasp the book to your chest.' - Independent on Sunday
'From their early years in Corona del Mar, through India and into Turkey, Rufi Thorpe tells the story of an incredibly complex, often painful and at times very dangerous friendship. This is writing that hits very hard, the rawness and the reality is stark and pulls no punches, yet the enduring need of these two characters remains at the forefront.
Female friendship is a mysterious thing. Rufi Thorpe explores the fine detail that bonds two women together despite the pain that both of them can cause to each other. Mia can never quite forget that Lorrie Ann had such a better start in life than she did, and although she always appears to be supportive and loyal, that touch of jealousy is always there. Lorrie Ann appears selfish and cold whilst at times showing incredible strength and love towards those dearest to her, but that streak of narcissism is always present.
This is a debut novel from an author who writes brilliantly with some fabulous characterisation and a sense of place that will transport the reader across continents and decades. An excellent read that I recommend highly.'
And, if you want to experience a brief moment of the book itself, you can read an extract from The Girls from Corona Del Mar below:
“You’re going to have to break one of my toes,” I explained. Lorrie Ann and I were sunning ourselves in the tiny, fenced- in patio of my mother’s house on thin towels laid directly over the hot, cracked pavement. We had each squeezed a plastic lemon from the supermarket into our hair and were praying to be blonder, always blonder, our eyes closed against the sun. There was jasmine on the wind.
In the narrow cove of our nineties California neighbourhood, there was no girl more perfect than Lorrie Ann Swift, not so much because she was extraordinary, but because she was ordinary in a way that surpassed us. Her parents loved her, and she loved them. In fact, it was difficult to even get an invitation to their house, so much did they prefer one another’s company to the company of outsiders. Even her older brother, instead of cruelly taunting her or running her over with his bike, shared his CD collection and advised her on her breaststroke.
Most of our parents had wound up in the sleepy ocean hamlet of Corona del Mar through a series of increasingly devastating mistakes. The Southern California real estate market, which had seemed throughout the eighties to have no ceiling, had suddenly crashed, and many fathers were now stay-at-home dads whose time was divided equally between the bottle and the couch, an ice pack over their eyes, as their wives scrambled to become certified dental hygienists. One girl, Miranda, had a mother who worked at Disneyland during the day and then worked all night from home as a telephone hotline psychic. “It pays better even than phone sex,” Miranda reported one afternoon as we licked sugar-free orange Jell-O powder from tiny saucers. I remember too that they had four extremely aged rottweilers, two of whom had lost control of their bowels.
Mostly, our parents had assumed that life would be self-explanatory and that, bright and eager as they were, they ought to be able to handle it just fine. This faith, a faith in their own capableness, was gradually leaving them and being replaced, at least in the case of my own mother, with an interest in the occult and a steady red wine habit. Some have characterised the boomers as optimistic, but to my view they were simply soft and rather unprepared. They didn’t know how to cook or sew or balance their chequebooks. They were bad at opening the mail. They got headache while trying to lead Girl Scout meetings, and they sat down in folding chairs with their fingers pinching the bridges of their noses, trying not to cry over how boring and hard life had turned out to be, as around them feverish little girls screamed with laughter over the fact that one of them had stepped in poop.
Lorrie Ann’s parents were not losing faith, though. They were living in some other, better world. They went to church every Sunday. They rented classic horror movies every Friday night, and even Lorrie Ann’s older brother, then sixteen, stayed in to watch, as they ordered Domino’s and made popcorn in the tiny one-bedroom apartment all four of them shared. Her father, Terry, had an earring (a big golden hoop like a pirate’s) and wore a black silk top hat to parent-teacher night. He was a Christian rock musician, and Lorrie Ann’s mother, Dana, was a preschool teacher who collected gnomes: ceramic and wooden gnomes of all sizes and styles, standing on the floor and on tables and shelves, their backs to the the wall, their dull eyes turned on the centre of the room.
Certainly, it seemed to me, Lorrie Ann would never have been stupid enough to get pregnant in tenth grade by a boy she didn’t even like, which was precisely what I had done. And yet, the spring I was fifteen, it was Lorrie Ann who came with me to get the abortion, who helped to plan it all out. She had already turned sixteen and gotten her license, but I didn’t just need her as my driver. I needed her, in all her goodness and her primness, to forgive me, to give her consent by participating in my scheme.
“Can’t you just say you’re having your period? Why do I have to break your toe?” Lorrie Ann asked, her eyes hidden behind the dusty lenses of my mother’s borrowed sunglasses.
“Who misses a championship game because they have cramps?” I argued. Trying to get an appointment at Planned Parenthood had been a nightmare. There wasn’t any way I could reschedule, and I doubted I could play softball the very next day. I wanted Lorrie Ann to break my toe so that I could show my coach a real and visceral damage. Also, in some strange way I viewed the breaking of my toe as the price of the abortion itself, a way of reassuring myself that I was still a decent person – it was the punishment that makes the wicked good again. Though raised entirely without religion, I was somehow Catholic through temperament alone.
“Just say you’re sick!” she insisted.
“I don’t like lying, and this is as close as I can get to making everything true.”
Lorrie Ann looked at me dolefully. “You’re nuts,” she said. “You lie all the time.”
“Yes, and I hate it. It’ll be fine. We’ll get drunk and you’ll just do it.”
Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchably beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can't quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend's life.