Pomona Queen

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

POMONA QUEEN extends the string of Kem Nunn’s powerful Southern California novels. Following TAPPING THE SOURCE (set in Huntington Beach, and nominated for a National Book Award) and UNASSIGNED TERRITORY (set in the Mojave Desert), Nunn explores in POMONA QUEEN the milieu of the city where he was born and raised. Clearly a labor of love—one might say of love betrayed—POMONA QUEEN presents not only a terrifyingly suspenseful narrative, but also an elegiac and outraged history of the Pomona valley. Through the personal memories and historical awareness of his protagonist Earl Dean, Nunn dramatizes the successive social eras that transformed the Pomona valley from meadows of sage and wildflowers, to fields of citrus groves, to dense housing developments, and finally to crime-ridden slums.

For all its sense of outrage, POMONA QUEEN is even more notable for its outrageousness. For Nunn, the route to understanding contemporary Southern California—and perhaps America itself—is through its underbelly, and he takes Earl Dean into a nightmarish world of psychopathic outlaws, drug addicts, youth gangs, and punk rockers. Dean, a former rock musician and artist who is trying to stabilize his life with a steady job as a door-to-door salesman, is dragged by legendary local outlaw Dan Brown into a bizarre scheme to memorialize and avenge the death of Brown’s murdered brother Buddy. Along the way, Dean encounters such grotesque characters as Brown’s violent...

(The entire section is 405 words.)