Culver City
by Brant Vickers
Atmosphere Press

"They had turned to reading as a way for the world to explain itself."

Coming of age in the late 1960s, best friends Cassady and Kyle explore an abandoned studio back lot in Culver City, California. The lot is laid out like a vast theme park, incorporating sets from various genres. To their surprise, the locations are less deserted than they initially seem. Soon the two boys meet a woman claiming to be Scarlett O’Hara and a man claiming to be Ashley Wilkes—or perhaps the ghosts of the actors who played them in the movie Gone with the Wind. They explain that after their deaths, they entered a realm called the Sift, where they were granted the privilege of living out their favorite roles for eternity. Judy Garland, for example, chooses to live as a character from one of her lesser-known films, as the making of The Wizard of Oz was by all accounts a hellish experience for her. However, as Cassady further explores the lot and interviews the ghosts, he grows suspicious that they might not be all they’re pretending to be.

Vickers renders the world portrayed in the novel with affection, nostalgia, and an abundance of warmth. The slow-building early passages in which Cassady and Kyle explore the back lot are wonderfully eerie and evoke the beginning of the film Spirited Away. The unusual and inventive story is grounded by Vickers’ meticulous research into the workings of Golden Age Hollywood and the often tragic lives of its leading men and women. Rather brilliantly, he resists the urge to offer tidy explanations for the mysterious phenomena encountered by the boys, preferring to leave the resolution of the central mystery somewhat open-ended. The result is a lyrical, atmospheric coming-of-age tale that nimbly captures the strangeness and heartache of that transitional period between childhood and growing up.

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