Campbell’s prose is clean and economical in an unconventional tale about youthful alienation and the unpredictability of fate. From an exclusive Beverly Hills gated estate to the wind-swept desert foothills of California’s Cleveland National Park, two unlikely characters—one male, one female—struggle through displacement, rebellion and loss in a foreign landscape where the only boundaries seem to be the ones they make for themselves.
Teenaged angst, her father’s suicide in the desert of Yuma, Arizona, and a girlfriend’s invitation propel seventeen-year-old Madora to a wild party and the arms of Willis Brock, an ex-Marine. Willis reaches out to the troubled girl while she is reeling from an adverse drug reaction, a knight in shining armor, his tall frame caught in a nimbus of light reflected through Madora’s psychedelic haze. Ready to be rescued, Madora bears the burden of her father’s loss like an unsightly scar, unable to find her place in the world: “No lucky girl ever had a father who walked into the desert and put a bullet in his brain.”
Five years later, Madora shares an isolated rental property with Willis thirty miles from San Diego, California. His obedient partner, she is fearful of upsetting the handsome if unpredictable man, uncomplaining even when Willis kidnaps a pregnant teenager and locks the girl in the trailer abandoned on the property. Madora’s emotional slavery has rendered her compliant, easily controlled by the dominant Brock, her clothing threadbare, home stripped of comfort, a clear parallel between psychological isolation and her physical environment. The birth of the teen’s baby inspires vague stirrings of rebellion, thoughts buried because of a deep fear of abandonment.
It is especially poignant when twelve-year-old Django Jones arrives in nearby Arroyo, the newly-orphaned son of two Hollywood celebrities sent to his rigorously solitary aunt who has literally no reliable instincts about children. Unable to comprehend the enormity of his loss, Django puts on a façade for his aunt, wandering the countryside in a fugue of confusion and loneliness. In perfect synchronicity, Madora’s life intersects with that of orphaned Django Jones through the antics of a pit bull named Foo. The two troubled young souls, twenty-two and twelve, forge an unusual friendship, a perfect storm of recognition and opportunity in the middle of nowhere. Django challenges Madora’s passive acceptance and gains confidence in the bargain.
Campbell writes with deceptive simplicity all the more impressive for the psychological currents simmering below the surface of a barren terrain. Lives made vulnerable by accommodation to loneliness are caught in the web of one man’s madness, the rugged landscape a bleak canvas for all manner of bad decisions. But fate intervenes on behalf of Brock’s prisoners, a life-long lie is revealed, a boy’s fantastical tale proved true, and the frayed connections between a mother and daughter mended in a novel that celebrates the power of friendship and the freedom to make one’s own choices.