The 1990s—Newport Beach, California. Money is God. A man’s worth is judged by the size of his boat, the make of his car. A woman’s value is assessed by the blank perfection of her quantifiable desirability: dress size, cup size, the whiteness of her teeth. And oh yes: her youth. Though Esther Wilson, the heroine of Victoria Patterson’s debut novel, has the looks to marry well, things aren’t going as planned. She’s nearing her mid-30s and possibly aging out of the only role she’s equipped to play: wife to a powerful member of the elite.
In the tradition of Edith Wharton and Henry James, This Vacant Paradise recasts the important questions about our very American obsessions: class, caste, race, age, and the roles of men and women in our drive toward an ever more lofty sense of our upward mobility.
Victoria Patterson, author of the story collection DRIFT, a Story Prize and California Book Award finalist, gives us a novel of such rigor and complexity that it feels too masterful to be her first. Like ZZ Packer or Robert Stone, Patterson’s prose is at once wickedly entertaining and searingly intelligent. THIS VACANT PARADISE is a powerful work of fiction sure to provoke and engage.
PRAISE & REVIEWS
“Patterson beautifully parses the consequences of one woman’s fall in this memorable, penetrating, fully achieved novel.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Patterson writes with the exuberance of a natural storyteller. Her cast is rich, her narrative sinuous and masterfully structured.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“With echoes of a modern-day House of Mirth, Patterson’s elaborate tale examines the complexities and contradictions of society, family, and personal desire.”
“Considering the subject matter–the real housewives of Orange County–Patterson’s debut novel (after story collection Drift) is surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced. In debt and unmarried, Esther Wilson works at a clothing boutique and lives with her wealthy grandmother, Eileen, whose financial generosity is orchestrated to “encourage dependence.” Terrified of poverty, Esther is in the midst of securing a proposal from an unattractive but wealthy heir, but she blows it. Enter ex-boyfriend Charlie Murphy, who, though from a well-off family, is a liberal-minded sociology professor at the local community college, and therefore an object of Eileen’s derision. Charlie takes it upon himself to emancipate Esther from the chains of vapid privilege, but with a huge inheritance imminent for him and nasty gossip circulating about Esther, Charlie’s lefty enlightenment dims. As an acerbic commentary on mid-’90s Southern Californian excess, the novel walks a fine line between critic and unintentional participant—commentaries on the retrograde position of Orange County women jostle against… physical description—though Patterson’s Southern California has echoes of Nathanael West and early Bruce Wagner.”
“This Vacant Paradise is that truly rare thing, a first novel that arrives with its writer working at the height of her intellectual gifts and creative powers.”
—Jane Vandenburgh, author of Architecture of the Novel and A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century
“This is an exceptional novel, populated by several memorable and deftly rendered characters, each presented with nuance and compassion. Patterson taps deeply into their humanity, and the outcome is striking and dark.”
—Michael Jaime-Becerra, author of This Time Tomorrow
“This Vacant Paradise is an enthralling reinterpretation of The House of Mirth that reminds us that there are contemporary Lily Barts. Esther Wilson—what a character! Her sense of integrity and her desire for love are so understandable, yet they continually bring her into conflict with her materialistic family and acquaintances in Newport Beach. Has the last hundred years of advances in women’s rights made a difference to the woman raised to marry for money? Victoria Patterson asks this fascinating question, and the answer makes for a completely engaging novel.”
—Alice Elliott Dark, author of Think of England and In the Gloaming