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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Little Miss Sunshine

I'm recommending Alix Ohlin's novel The Missing Person, but I should note my possible bias. The novel is kind of like my life in an alternate universe: the narrator is a graduate student in New York who returns home to Albuquerque to find her ecoterrorist younger brother. My brother is no ecoterrorist, but he's very handy with a survival knife. I love to read books set in Albuquerque. Eventually, I'll start my Lois Duncan retrospective series on this blog and point out all the familiar locations that made me more tolerant of (nay, obsessed with) astral projection, witches, and anti-feminism in those pre-teen classics.

When my friends visited New York this summer, we went to see Little Miss Sunshine and spent most of the movie whispering about whether the route from Albuquerque to southern California made sense. We were convinced that there was a sign for Madrid, New Mexico in one scene, but there are two problems with that location: a) Madrid isn't on the way to anywhere but Madrid (or Santa Fe if you're taking the Turquoise Trail), and b) there were saguaro cacti in the background, and the Sonoran desert is in Arizona.

So The Missing Person was a little unnerving (unsurprisingly, there were a couple of scenes in Little Miss Sunshine that also felt like scenes from my [contrived?] bizarro life as a young girl who wore big, round glasses, too). I was interested in Ohlin's play with an unreliable narrator, and I believed everything that happened in the book until the final thirty pages. I was ambivalent about how she tied the stories up in the end, but most of the book is very good.

Plus, sleazy motels figure into the narrative. I'm obsessed with the old motels with neon signs along Route 66. I set many of my short stories in them. My first house in Albuquerque was a couple of blocks from the infamous Aztec Motel, which was then one of the seedier places in Albuquerque but has since become a vibrant monument to kitsch. The revitalization of the Aztec is an anomaly, though, as most of the motels are more likely to be torn down than preserved. This is a web site with walking tours of Route 66 landmarks in Albuquerque that shows many of the old gas stations and motels in the area. I was amused by the note about my old school, Monte Vista Elementary, which was built in 1930 with space for adding eight more rooms. My classroom was a portable trailer for four of the five years of elementary school--not that there's anything wrong with that--and those portables aren't going anywhere.


Blogger Jenny Davidson on Sat Sep 30, 10:18:00 PM:
I must confess that I loved Lois Duncan's books when I was a kid, they were definitely a guilty pleasure. The ones that stay with me most: "Summer of Fear" (saw a TV movie on this one on TV when I was in second grade and had nightmares for YEARS); "The Gift of Magic" (my favorite, less scary); "Ransom" (of course--kidnap fantasies galore); "Down a Dark Hall" (unless I am misremembering which one this is--boarding-school kids made to channel the dead composers/writers?). Genius!

Must read Alix's stuff, I am ashamed I haven't already--it sounds very good.