“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 backlot in Culver City, Calif. The lot is laid out like a vast theme park, incorporating sets from various genres. To their surprise, the locations are not as deserted as they initially seem. Soon the two boys meet a young woman claiming to be Scarlett O’Hara and a young man by the name of Ashley Wilkes—or perhaps the ghosts of the actors who played them in the movie Gone with the Wind decades prior. They end up explaining to the boys that after their deaths, they entered a realm called the Sift, where they are granted the privilege of living out their favorite movie roles for eternity. Judy Garland, for example, chooses to live as a character from one of her lesser-known films, as her experiences in the making of The Wizard of Oz were hellish for her. However, Cassady further explores the lot and “interviews” the ghosts, as he is suspicious they may not be all they are pretending to be.
Author Brant Vickers renders the world portrayed in the young-adult novel with affection, nostalgia, and an abundance of warmth. The slow-building early passages where Cassady and Kyle explore the backlot are wonderfully eerie, as they are recalled from personal experiences when he and friends jumped the fence at night to search through the ruins. This inventive story is grounded by Vickers’ meticulous research into the workings of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the often tragic lives of its leading ladies and gentlemen. Brilliantly, he resists the urge to offer a tidy explanation for the mysterious phenomenon the boys encounter, preferring to leave the resolution of the central mystery somewhat left to interpretation. The result is a lyrical, atmospheric, coming-of-age tale that nimbly captures the strangeness and heartache of that transitional period between childhood and adulthood.
Culver City is available for purchase from Atmosphere Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.