Summary and book reviews of The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

The Last Days of California

A Novel

By Mary Miller

The Last Days of California
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: 2 Sep 2014,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

A teenage girl and her unraveling family travel cross-country in preparation for the Rapture in this radiant, highly anticipated debut.

With The Last Days of California, Mary Miller bursts into the literary world, taking up the mantle of Southern fiction and rendering it her own with wry vulnerability and contemporary urgency. Miller's revelatory protagonist, Jess, is fourteen years old and waiting for the world to end. Her evangelical father has packed up the family and left their Montgomery home to drive west to California, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and rebellious (and secretly pregnant) sister, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop, waffle house, and gas station along the way. As Jess's belief frays, her teenage myopia evolves into awareness about her fracturing family. Using deadpan humor and savage charm belying deep empathy for her characters, Miller's debut captures the angst, sexual rivalry, and escalating self-doubt of teenage life in America while announcing Miller as a fierce new voice.

Last Days

It was Wednesday and we hadn't even made it to Texas yet. We'd been sleeping late, swimming during daylight hours, but we were going to have to move if we wanted to make it to California in time.

In a shitty little town in Louisiana, which was full of shitty little towns, we stopped at a Waffle House and sat at the counter. My father liked to sit at counters because he liked to be among the people—you couldn't just ask if they'd been saved, you had to win them over first, had to make them like you—but there was no time left for niceties. He had brought along a bundle of tracts that said "All Suffering SOON TO END!"

When the waitress asked how we were doing, he handed her one.

"The world is passing away," he said, "but those who do the will of God will remain forever."

In response, she set a tiny napkin in front of him with a knife and fork on top. Then she moved down the line: my sister, Elise, and my mother and me.

I watched my father, who ...

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Reviews

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I challenge anyone to read Mary Miller's The Last Days of California and not find some personal resonance in the backseat of that apocalypse-bound wagon. That's because underneath Miller's road trip novel is the age-old story we all lived through: the one where you discover your parents are human.   (Reviewed by Morgan Macgregor).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Elizabeth McCracken, author of An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination and The Giant's House
Mary Miller's The Last Days of California is hilarious and heartbreaking, dark and beautiful, a novel written by one of the most observant and mordant writers alive. This book is terrific.

Author Blurb Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers
The Last Days of California is the Sense and Sensibility of pre-Apocalypse America, and Jess and Elise may be my new favorite literary sisters...Mary Miller is a ventriloquist of adolescent angst and a nervy surveyor of American culture.

Kirkus Reviews

... there's no narrative drive to the events; even the rapture's failure to happen is greeted with a shrug. This lack of affect may be the point of Miller's deadpan narrative, which substitutes the brand names of junk food and Hollywood movies for social observation, but it doesn't make for compelling fiction. Drab and dreary.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Jess's earnest, searching voice, as she contemplates her parents, the trip, and their values, that lingers after Miller's story has finished.

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The American Road Trip Book

Readers who wish to travel America without leaving the couch have always had a vast tradition from which to cull. While you may prefer to watch the mountains and the desert going by from the back of a horse (Lonesome Dove) or atop a raft (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), the most common way to go is, of course, by car.

From Route 66 to the Pacific Coast Highway, from John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac, writers have always been drawn to the freeways and back roads of the American landscape.

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Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck – The author and his poodle take to the road in 1960 ...

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