In a different take on a book club, The Sway invites you to follow along with synopses written by our resident aspiring book person. This month, she digests Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Check back here once a week for an update on the book helping us pretend the sand in our laundry room is from the California shore. Oh — the below contains spoilers. Duh.
Installment One: The First Five(?) Chapters
Prologue: Malibu Catches Fire
I usually find prologues boring (fight me), but this one is basically a drumroll to the book. We learn that on Saturday, Aug. 27, 1983, in Malibu, a fire begins at a notorious party at the home of Nina Riva — one that ends up spreading across the entire coastline.
:: Notable quote: ‘Destruction. And renewal, rising from the ashes. The story of fire.”
:: Mysterious quote: “Because, just as it is in Malibu’s nature to burn, so was it in one particular person’s nature to set fire and walk away.”
- So, obviously, we know we’re looking for a firebug. But, is it an actual fire, or like, metaphorical? Are we burning actual bridges or relationship bridges? As professional Facebook sleuths and murder podcast enthusiasts, we’re pretty sure we’re going to figure this one out. Let’s goooooooo.
Chapter One: 7:00 a.m.
(The book is in two parts, and the chapters are arranged as a timeline.)
We’re introduced to Nina Riva. Nina is a local who grew up in “old Malibu,” one lined with “shabby beach bungalows” like the one she grew up in. Now, those shacks are being torn down to make way for mansions of concrete and glass — mansions like the one she currently lives in. One she says she’d gladly trade for a shabby hut, where she’d feel closer to nature.
Her husband Brandon, we learn, is the one who wanted the mansion. He is famous. He has left Nina for his mistress, Carrie Soto. He is staying with said mistress at a hotel. And Nina is the subject of an article telling the world all about it.
Nina thinks about all of the above as she wakes up, walks to the edge of the cliff her house is built on, and screams into the wind. As one does, when they have a cliff.
Cliff wind has to be much more satisfying to scream into than a pillow.
Untitled Chapters Two-Three: Page 15-26.
These may not officially be chapters but I’m calling them chapters. Don’t @ me.
OK, so now we meet Jay Riva, Nina’s brother. He’s a handsome, cocky, championship surfer, but is apparently cursed with living under the shadow of his famous father. We meet Nina’s sister, Kit Riva, who the author points out is pretty, but small and awkward. I wonder what the author would think of me, eating my Girl Scout cookie stash while staring at a Kindle app. Probably not much.
Anyway, the two head to the beach with their surfboards while wondering if Nina is depressed, which Jay says is ridiculous even though he was depressed AF after a break-up with his girlfriend, Ashley.
Meanwhile, on another beach, another sibling, Hud, is hooking up with Ashley. Dun Dun Duuuun.
Hud is a photographer — the one who took photos of Jay that made Jay famous. Ashley fell in love with the idea of someone who, unlike Jay, accepts quiet accolades, and started hooking up with Hud while still dating Jay.
Ashley and Hud promise to tell Jay they’re together at that night’s party (bad idea) and she lets Hud take naked photos of her (worse idea). Ladies, please don’t do this. Men, don’t do it either. It’s dumb as hell. You know this isn’t the last we’ve heard of those naked photos.
Chapter Four: 8:00 a.m.
Nina is on her surfboard in the water of an “exclusive cove” (ugh), thinking about all that has dared to transpire on the eve of her big-ass party, destined to be full of A-listers behaving badly. The parties get so out of control that Nina doesn’t always know everything that happens until it makes tabloid news.
She knows the famous people about to be all up in her house will be aware of her relationship’s shameful turn, but she just can’t cancel a party that has never had any official invitations. That’s how good this party is. People just know.
Chapter Five: 1956
In this chapter, we finally meet the infamous Mick, the one famous enough to have nearly trademarked the “Riva lip” — the same plump lower lip that Nina has.
Mysterious quote: “Our family histories are simply stories. They are myths we create about the people before us, in order to make sense of ourselves.”
This chapter tells the origin story of the Riva siblings’ parents: June, a local girl who helps her family run a fish restaurant (Pacific Fish), and Mick, a Malibu transplant who promises her he’s going to become a star. He tells her everything she wants to hear and promises her the world, because he wants a woman who believes in him and will do anything for him. She’s so desperate for a life bigger than a fish restaurant that she absorbs every ounce of bullshit he produces. It’s clearly a match made in hell.
How do we know? Because
- A.) Mick obviously did indeed become famous.
- B.) Nina and her siblings grew up in a shabby bungalow.
We can’t wait to cringe at whatever line Mick feeds June next.
Installment Two: We Knew Mick Was Full of Shit
We knew it all along. Just you wait.
Nina comes in from her private cove for a rinse-off in her outdoor shower. She listens to and then deletes a message from someone named Chris Travertine about some photos that are being released, and the possibly of posing for Playboy. We learn she’s 25, and she says she’s not a mother but has “raised children.” Hmm.
Mick proposes to June and she says yes. He convinces her father their marriage is a good idea, but June’s mother says he’s too handsome to be trusted. At this point in time, I think Mick really does love “Junie,” at least in his own way, in his own definition of what that means. June is completely infatuated and sure he’s going to deliver the life she’s been longing for.
Mick and June sleep together, often. Mick starts booking big singing gigs, and buys her a bigger ring. June gets pregnant. The couple moves up the wedding date and has a small beach ceremony; June’s side has family and friends, Mick’s only has music executives.
Nina is born, and they move into a cottage over the water. June is convinced there are only good things to come. That poor girl.
Nina checks into the family restaurant, Riva’s Seafood (renamed at a point that’s still TBD). We meet Ramon, the manager, and learn that Nina is actually a model who’s become so known for her sexy surfer photoshoots that her presence brings people into the struggling restaurant — even if they’re only there to ask for her autograph.
Meanwhile, Jay drops Kit off at their childhood home, where they both still live. Kit goes in to change, thinking about when she’ll get a turn in the spotlight. Jay speeds over to the Sandcastle, where his crush Lara works, and makes sure she’s coming to the party. Lara is the only one that knows his biggest secret, which he confessed after a hookup: he has a congenital heart defect that will end his surfing career.
Note we made in the margin: We know Nina grew up in a “shack” and her husband has left her, so is she repeating what happened between her father and mother?
1959: Our intro to Mick the Prick (not the official title)
Mick convinces June that he can’t reschedule or postpone his tour, but that he’ll come home before she gives birth to Jay. Spoiler: He comes home half a day after he’s born. But June is swept up by the fact she has a glamorous husband who is growing famous, a baby girl, and a new baby, and decides that’s enough. When they get home, Mick tells her that a song he wrote for her, “Warm June,” will be the first single on his second album. He just keeps reeling her in.
Jay arrives back home and comments on the fact that tomboy Kit is wearing a dress. She resents it and hints at the fact that she wants to change, but thinks her family won’t let her or accept her.
Jay and Kit head out to pick up Hud and bring him to Riva’s Seafood. Hud is consumed with feelings of guilt for hooking up with Ashley behind Jay’s back.
Back to 1959
Mick is at the studio, recording an album. June is roasting a chicken in the kitchen, dressed perfectly in a housedress with a perfectly curled hair because “she never let her husband come home to a woman with her hair out of place.” Ugh.
The doorbell rings, and June and the two kids go to answer. Who is it? A woman who HANDS JUNE A BABY and says THIS IS MICK’S, HERE YOU HAVE IT and then DRIVES THE F AWAY.
June cycles through feelings of rage and sadness before deciding she’s going to love the baby. The baby named Hudson. As she puts the kids to bed, she calmly plans her next move.
When Mick comes home, June confronts him, and Mick ponders how things came to this — which basically amounts to the fact that women kept throwing themselves at him and he eventually stopped resisting. He’s now been through countless women. For a moment, he hates himself for ruining his family. Then, he realizes June loves Hudson, and realizes she’ll take him back to keep him.
By the morning, June’s anger turns to sadness, then grief, and then, the two of them “talk it out,” and decide to stay together. With the help of vodka, Cadillacs, minks, and the dream of a perfect future she’s still holding onto, June learns to live with everything that’s happened.
Meanwhile, Mick continues helping himself to every woman he makes eye contact with, while telling himself he’s nothing like his own father, who DID THE SAME DAMN THING. Until one night, when he comes home drunk at 4 a.m. and tells June he’s leaving with his latest fling, Veronica.
In a rare honest moment, drunk Mick screams that he can’t be a family man. And then he’s gone. June is undone. But when the sun rises, she picks up the pieces for the kids.
Installment Three: Family Histories Repeat
At Riva Seafood, Nina makes her siblings each a mess of seafood between bread, a comfort lunch called “The Sandwich.” “It would have never occurred to Jay, Hud, or Kit to make the sandwich themselves, or to make the sandwich for Nina.” Ah, a delicious metaphor. We see what you did there, Taylor.
Nina absentmindedly picks up a magazine and has to read about her husbands affair, again. Her siblings arrive and cheer her up whilst reminiscing about previous Riva parties and reminding readers just how wild they can be.
1961 The parental saga continues
The day after his divorce to June goes through, Mick marries Veronica (ouch). Four months later, to absolutely no one’s surprise, he starts sleeping with someone else. They get divorced. June reads about, and hopes Mick might at least now call the kids. To absolutely no one’s surprise, he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, Mick’s thinking his money is making a great life for his kids. He starts thinking about his parents, and we get a glimpse into why he is the way that he is — not that it excuses his behavior. Mick’s dad is a barber and cheating husband. His mother is a cook with a violent temper. They are both so wrapped up in their own toxic, violent relationship that most of the time Mick is ignored.
Mick’s next marriage ends in a speedy annulment. Feeling empty inside, he goes home to June. She barely puts up a fight while he sweet talks her into moving back in. When Nina wakes up, he introduces himself as her father and tells her he’s home for good.
Discuss: Is June weak? If you were a single mom to four kids whose true love had just returned, what would you do?
The siblings go surfing together for — dun dun dun — the last time.
Mick assumes the role of the perfect husband and father. He convinces June he’s a changed man and they remarry. June gets pregnant again. Mick finally wins over Nina, the only one of his kids who has remained skeptical about his intentions, with his constant presence and affection. Mick tells her he’s his favorite. Wakes her up early to fly kites. Nina knows he’ll never leave her again.
A year later, while on tour, Mick runs off with a backup singer.
We join the siblings back in the ocean and learn that Kit just might be a better surfer than Jay. Nina leaves to greet the cleaning crew, and Hud watches her go, thinking about how well she treats everyone else but herself. “Nina never said no, never stood in anyone’s way, never took anything. … He knew he was supposed to like that about her, but he didn’t. He didn’t like it about her at all.” This was so refreshing to hear. I feel like women are programmed to be selfless, and praised for it.
Mick becomes famous. He’s never home, but his kids see him everywhere. He stops paying child support — so the house is paid off, but the family struggles. June ends up back at the family business. Meanwhile, the kids are raised by the ocean. One day, when Nina is almost 11, the crew finds an abandoned surfboard on the beach, and over the course of the afternoon it changes their lives. As her children are telling her of their discovery, June finds herself thinking about how much Mick is missing. But, she hates that she’s thinking of Mick at all, and drinks herself to sleep like she does on every other night.
When the kids wake up, the surfboard has been claimed. But on Christmas morning, they find a Christmas tree on the beach, surrounded by a board for each of them.
Hud contemplates his birth mother, Carol, and wonders how much of his father he has in him. Is he, too, capable of doing terrible things? He thinks of all this while he develops the naked photos he took of Ashley.
We learn the full extent of June’s alcoholism, which has gotten worse and worse ever since Mick left. June’s mother dies of a stroke, and she takes an assessment of her life: “one woman, all alone, with four kids and a restaurant she never wanted.”
She decides, again, that with four great kids, she has had to do something right. So she renames the restaurant with her now-famous last name, thinking that when Mick comes back, he’s going to love it.
Her drinking problem intensifies, and the kids begin to notice. Nina, who is 14, starts driving them around, terrified that her mother is going to kill them all. After June almost sets fire to the kitchen, Kit explodes and calls her a drunk. The rest of the house finally admits that fact aloud. Quietly, they all admit they depend on Nina.
Nina thinks about all the nice stuff she now owns. It’s stuff only Brandon wanted and cares about, but the absence of all of his things stings.
All the kids leave for a sleepover. June turns on entertainment news to see that Mick has married for the fifth time. He’s 42, and his wife is 24. For the first time, June allows herself to realize that Mick is never coming back, and that “she’s been a fool her whole life.”
She puts “Warm June” on the record player on repeat, and drinks while mourning her relationship. She vows to get her life together for the kids. Then she gets in the bath, and drowns.
Nina finds her. She calls 911. She tells her siblings. And the weight of the family falls on her, at 17.
Kit is getting dressed for the party. She decides this will be the night that she is going to kiss a boy. Finding she has nothing in her closet that makes her feel the way she wants to feel, she goes to her sister for advice.
There is a funeral for June. Mick doesn’t come.
Nina becomes mother and father to her siblings and herself. The others assume household roles. Nina forages her father’s name on everything. Her principal tells her he knows what’s up, but he won’t call CPS and risk having them split up as long as she’s doing OK.
Nina drops out of school and goes to work at the restaurant. When she turns 18, she becomes their legal guardian. To celebrate, she makes them all The Sandwich.
Nina helps Kit get dressed, creating an outfit for her with a pair of scissors. Kit offers her a shoulder to cry on, but Nina rejects it — and Kit realizes that rejecting help from those you love is actually cruel, when they want nothing more than to be there for you.
Nina manages to get Jay and Hud through high school. Kit becomes a teenager and spends as much time as possible out of the house. Nina finally gets to catch her breath. Later that year, she is spotted while surfing by a photographer, and her modeling career begins. She does a calendar, and her photos inspire her siblings – Kit realizes women do a future in surfing, Hud realizes he loves photography, and Jay realizes he needs to up his game.
Nina starts bringing in more money than she thought possible. And, they throw their first party.
Back to 6:00 p.m.
Hud tries to tell Jay about Ashley. But instead, he gets nervous and ends up asking Jay what he thinks about the two of him dating. Epic fail.
The first guest arrives to the party. IT’S BRANDON. Predictably, he tells Nina he loves her and wants to come home. So predictable.
Brandon is having his photos taken on the beach when he spots Nina eating at a beach club. For him, it’s love at first sight. For her, he is just another guy hitting on her. But, she agrees to go out with him.
Brandon was raised by a father won’t accept any less from him than to always win, while being a perfect gentleman. Nina respects him for remaining humble and gracious in his tennis stardom — and for pursuing a simple life with her, making stir-fry dinners and hanging out on the beach despite the fact that he could whisk her away to anywhere he wanted. She loves that he loves her siblings.
She doesn’t love all of him, but like her mother, she is tired. So she lets him love her. And they get married.
Soon, he buys a house for the both of them — by himself. They start planning a vacation, together with Nina’s siblings. Then, he comes home from Wimbledon and tells Nina he’s leaving her for another woman.
Stay tuned for our final installment.
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