The Sweeping Novel of a Twentieth-Century California Life
Love and War in California tells the story, through the eyes of Payton Daltrey, of the last sixty years of an evolving America.
The award-winning author Oakley Hall begins his newest work in 1940s San Diego, where his endearing, wide-eyed narrator must define his identity in terms of self, family, and World War II. As his classmates disappear into the war one by one, he becomes obsessed with abuses of power and embroiled with the charming, dangerous Errol Flynn; with the Red Baiting of the American Legion; with the House Un-American Activities Committee; and with the Japanese interment at Manzanar. Nevertheless, Payton, too, must go to the war, where he is a part of the invasion of Europe and that proving of the American soldier: the Battle of the Bulge. After war's end and time in New York, he returns to California as a writer and a seeker, whose old, long-lost love rises from the ashes to show him who he really is.
Hall has been called a "master craftsman" (Amy Tan) with "one of the finest prose styles around" (Michael Chabon), and he has received the PEN Center USA West Award of Honor and the P&W Writers for Writers Award. Coming on the heels of Hall's San Francisco Chronicle bestseller (a reissue of his classic Western, Warlock), Love and War in California is more than a novel about a young boy who grows old. It's about how the passions of youth become the verities of age, and how we evolve as a nation, a country, and a people during times that are all at once turbulent, dangerous, and stirring.
Hall's sure-handed latest (after 20-plus novels) features Payton Daltry. who is a junior at San Diego State when Pearl Harbor is bombed on December 7, 1941. His friends and elder brother, Richie, join the service; Payton attempts to finish his degree and cultivate a faltering love affair with the fair and wealthy Bonnie, pregnant by a former boyfriend. Payton cements their tie by helping her find an abortionist, while he also tries to reconcile his profound social consciousness with the jingoism of a nation adjusting to total war. In short order, his work with a socialist newspaper, the Brand, puts him, for the next two-thirds of the novel, in conflict with almost everyone he knows. (There are entertaining cameos by Erroll Flynn, Jack Warner and others.) The last 100 pages summarize with little sense of character or progression: the novel jumps ahead to 1944 with Payton as a GI invading France. Hall (Warlock) glosses the combat experience wherein Payton's ideals are finally destroyed and his outlook shifts to fatalistic and melancholy acceptance. The story is eminently enjoyable for its splendid detail, but Payton's actions are seldom justified by his feelings, and as a narrator he never quite comes off the page.