Catalina by Liska Jacobs


Elsa Fischer is taking refuge from her fractured life in Manhattan. Armed with her friends in Santa Monica, Bloody Marys, and Mother’s pharmacy Elsa is trying to deal with a recent breakup and job loss. The affair ended abruptly, as well as the job, as they were part of each other. But Elsa is a category five hurricane of self-destruction. Only her friends and her ex-husband are unaware of the gale force winds on the sail to Catalina Island.

She is Ingrid a wine rep from Portland or Susanna from San Diego. What she wants to be now is not in her life. An illusion. She will pretend that she is on vacation, see old friends and blow off some steam.

The plot is about an Elsa escape through a slur of pills and alcohol. As she journeys with her friends to Catalina, the cast and crew are also suffering their issues and dysfunctional qualities. But it is captain Tom that is the most psychologically sober and can see through Elsa. The trip becomes bittersweet as everyone sheds their jacket of protection and indulges in their demons.

During the narrative, we are a witness to flashbacks of Elsa’s youth, memories of trips, of friendships but also to her parent’s marriage. A mother waiting up long hours for a husband that shows up late in the night and the subsequent arguments and hushed tones. A mother medicating herself with alcohol, to push away the thoughts of unfaithfulness. But what her parents do not know is that they set Elsa up for life without coping skills and a moral compass. These memories bring realism to the main character, making her relatable even though she is dark.

The narrative is well-written with images that put you at the moment with the main character. “I let the pills dissolved under my tongue and wait for the covers to creep up around me, the promise of hotel sheets..starchy stiff like beaten egg whites.” Jacobs has a beautiful way with words without getting lost.

The setting of Santa Monica, the Pier, Catalina Island and Joshua Tree takes you on vacation. The Pier dominated by the Ferris wheel in an atmosphere rich in fried food and cotton candy. Gazing into the starry nights that blanket you in the national park. And the description of Catalina Island, from the eroded bluffs, electric blue waters, to the schools of the orange Garibaldi fish.

When I first chose to request this novel I was attracted to the darkness of the story. And I walk away with something richer. I have a greater love and appreciation for the climate, topography, the ambiance of California.

Excellent novel and I highly recommend it to everyone. Thank you, NetGalley, and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.

A racing yacht leans to port during Antigua Race Week, Antigua and Barbuda


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