I've been reading a lot of just-in novels, and usually walk away like a cat: ambivalent, sorta hungry, and of course retaining no long-term memory. Not so with "Sons and Other Flammable Objects." Porochista Khakpour has answered some inner clarion call with this megawatt diamond, which she scrapes across the surface of the pane we've erected to keep the world out.
But in it comes, and here, suddenly, is a family not conveniently handicapped from mother or father-loss, and does not sublimate the issues of one child into another. There are two parents and one child, and Khakpour's entelechy reveals the crucible of this trinity...But in which, of course, the fourth wall is Iran. There is Darius, the father, who is "desperately annexed to his work world to add some dimension beyond father" and Lala, the mother, who is faced with a proto-Posh Spice existence in the shadow of her brooding husband and Xerxes, her mercurial, I Dream of Jeannie-obsessed son. Lala's surreal and occasionally crass experiences "making nice" beyond the confines of her Pasadena domecile are painful and realistic. After she survives a night out with her new posse, Lala feels " grateful to be alive in the night, even if it be with these strange and maybe ultimately undesirable people, but people nonetheless, and people who had some investment in her, something, she sensed."
Though Khakpour is the kind of writer who nails the description of being "deep in the type of tipsy that demanded everyone be tipsier," Khakpour herself is not this kind of host. She is not going to flambe you with her insights--they won't kick you out of the story, you won't get lost--but she's not going to cover them up when she leaves them eviscerated on your doorstep. Whites of eyes are "two lockets of white slime" and then there is "the toxic sh-t of adventure" and the dessicated Southern Californian life, with Beverly Hills and its "pathetic glittering length."
Khakpour is especially damning to the gasoline soul of Los Angeles--she's as harsh as anyone since Cintra Wilson in "Colors Insulting to Nature"--but with precision and in a way that perfectly fits how her characters' malaise so often has to do with their physical locales. This is just what people do: they damn the walls around them if they aren't able to directly address the traumas that deposited them there. She is so thoroughly married to each character in the estranged but still suffocating and insular Adam family, and the ease with which she shifts from one to the next--not to mention from one plot point or earthly coordinate--is masterful.
I don't know what else to say. You have to read this book.