L.A. Weather by María Amparo Escandón

In a novel alternating between fun and heartbreak, a prosperous, big-hearted, messy family struggles to weather literal and metaphoric disaster in 2016 Los Angeles.

L.A. Weather is a lovely, compelling and occasionally brutal novel by María Amparo Escandón (Esperanza’s Box of Saints) about a family on the brink of disaster, in a city similarly on edge. Captivating, sympathetic, funny characters and never-ending surprises (that even those involved compare to a telenovela) form a world for readers to get lost in.

Patriarch Oscar Alvarado has become a shell of his formerly assertive self; his wife, Keila, a sculptor, is losing patience. Their daughters are Claudia, an author and television chef; Olivia, an architect and mother of twin girls; and social-media maven Patricia. The Alvarados are a close-knit family of successful, high-powered professionals, bridging Oscar’s Catholicism, Keila’s Judaism and their shared Mexican-American heritage in Los Angeles, a vibrant city beautifully evoked by Escandón’s loving descriptions of food, traffic and culture.

In L.A. Weather‘s opening pages, a horrifying accident befalls Olivia’s daughters (parents beware), prompting various responses to trauma and launching the story directly into the Alvarados’ family dynamic and cascading failures. Oscar’s obsession with drought and wildfire may at first seem random, if not nonsensical, but it reflects a secret he’s been keeping from his family, and serves as symbol for their shared concerns. When Keila announces she wants to divorce him, their daughters protest vehemently, although it is soon their own respective marriages that threaten to catch fire. The city crackles with heat as one crisis or shenanigan after another ensues.

“[The] family’s stories were never neatly wrapped up at the end of the year. They just went on, and it felt good, this continuum.” The novel is defined by time, however: Escandón chronicles events from January through December of 2016. Her story is a feat of both plot and character. Each member of the extended Alvarado clan is intriguing and flawed but deserving of empathy; even when they make questionable decisions, they are both convincing and entertaining. Climate change serves as a clever way to monitor the metaphoric fire risk to a family that loves fiercely but stumbles in the execution of that love. L.A. is richly portrayed: “the wildland-urban interface, that zone where nature and city cohabited (or collided?), where your surveillance camera could spot a mountain lion roaming in your backyard while you slept…. [Oscar] could not stop thinking that it was this unashamed human encroachment into nature that was causing so much destruction.” This is a story of people, place and connection. Absorbing, moving, comic and tragic, L.A. Weather will capture readers and never let them go.


This review originally ran in the August 9, 2021 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 7 squash-flower mini tamales.

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