...a dizzying, kaleidoscopic thriller that refuses to let readers look away from the dark side of Southern California ... It’s difficult to discuss how the lives of the characters in Wonder Valley come together without giving away the revelations that make the novel nearly impossible to put down. That’s not to say the book is dependent on twists; while Pochoda takes her readers in unexpected directions, it’s the memorable characters and beautiful prose that make the novel so successful ... Fairly or not, literary thrillers live or die by their endings, and the last pages of Wonder Valley are unexpected and pitch-perfect — there’s no unearned redemption, but also no needlessly dark nihilism. Pochoda has a real gift for pacing, and she’s a remarkably psychologically astute writer; it’s hard not to feel at least some kind of sympathy for all the characters, even the ones capable of monstrous acts of violence and selfishness.
Pochoda is a master at homing in on the details of both exterior and interior landscapes and crafting characters so palpable that you can feel blood throbbing in their temples and rivulets of sweat evaporating off their necks. It’s not a far stretch to consider Pochoda to be in the company of James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker, but the two novelists that most often leap to mind as peers are Walter Mosley and National Book Award finalist Kem Nunn. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to find Wonder Valley on the short list for several awards itself.
Pochoda’s sharpness as a writer comes through in her patience. Early on, it’s clear that, as with many books that share Wonder Valley’s structure, vignettes will overlap and mysteries will eventually be pieced together. Yet uniquely, revelations arrive without announcement; pivotal moments quietly creep into paragraphs. The ending is magnificently unexpected, almost ingenious, and the surprise factor sneaks up on you. Its subtle brilliance is just that — subtle ... There’s heartbreak and disappointment to spare in Wonder Valley, and every character is rendered with empathy. Each element in the story has texture, from the weather to the architecture to the people inhabiting it. Pochoda lets no one off easy, and, at times, she gets a little carried away sketching out the idiosyncrasies of her setting. But crucially, Wonder Valley has an innate understanding of what makes hiding from home, or taking a leap into the unknown, or ripping off your clothes and racing through traffic, naked, such deeply human impulses. The book tells an essential truth: Everybody’s running from something.
...[an] enthralling look at people mired in a nomadic existence, anonymous to most and longing for a connection with another ... Not every character is sympathetic, but the increasingly heightened drama that surrounds each character’s life never falters ... Pochoda deftly moves each of these characters together, making their connection realistic while pulling Wonder Valley from the past to the present to illustrate what led each to this particular moment ... Pochoda delivers a compassionate look at the displaced that treats each with respect and humanity in Wonder Valley.
Ivy Pochoda’s third literary outing, Wonder Valley, is not to be missed, though it does contain a few minor flaws … The novel follows the delicate balance between the life a character lives versus the life for which he or she wishes. Wonder Valley is a chronicle of the quotidian and the ever-present struggle to rise above it … The first two quarters of Wonder Valley bounce haphazardly between characters and timelines. Consequently, the gradual reveal of how the 2006 events relate to — and influence — the later ones are less satisfying than they otherwise might have been … Flaws aside, however, Pochoda’s novel is compelling.
Pochada has written a novel alive with empathy for the dispossessed and detailed descriptions of the California landscape, with a little of the film Crash thrown in. But as sympathetic as the characters are, their stories fail to come together as a dramatic whole.