“Book Review: Virtual Velocity”
Reviewed by Ruben Degollado
To live and write in LA: A quick, engaging read about the genesis of a literary superstar
Most of the time when you read that disclaimer after a novel’s title page, the one that says, “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious,” you tend to believe it. When I picked up Virtual Velocity by Anthony Mora, I believed it too—until I got further into the story. The main character, literary superstar Jake Jensen, is real, I thought. But why haven’t I ever heard of him? I even Googled him and found many Jake Jensens, but none are famous literary authors who got their start as a Rolling Stone columnist. Alas, the disclaimer is true, but let me tell you why I thought it wasn’t.
Jake Jensen is a literary giant, one who has reached the mythic fame of Tom Wolfe, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, and the like. When Jake enters The Dresden bar and meets up with his interviewer John, he’s told that they need to wait for the publicist to start the interview. While they wait in the bar, Jake tells the story about how he got started as a rock journalist covering the 70s and 80s LA Punk and New Wave scenes. He mentions real bands like Oingo Boingo, The Motels, the lesser known The Plimsouls (but not to fans like me of the film Valley Girl). The details Jake gives are so specific to the scene and bring LA to life so vividly that it felt like I was reading a biographical account. I must admit that I was a huge fan of the LA music scene even though I was a Chicano kid growing up along the Texas/Mexico border.
As I got further into the first section of Virtual Velocity, it became apparent that it would be an entire conversation with little action, little traditional narration. Just as I thought I was about to tune out because I like movement and action, I found myself hooked by the repartee, Jake’s acerbic wit. The dialogue (and dialogue within dialogue) is smart, rapid-fire, immersive, and at times, reflective. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty meets author John Cheever.
“’Everyone wants more,’ she said. ‘No one ever has it all. That’s a myth. A lie. Take the gifts life gives you. Life gave us last night, this morning, it’s giving us Wednesday and will give us more. Let’s take life up on it, Jake. Don’t give life ultimatums. You never win that way.’”
Virtual Velocity is not a traditional novel following the usual story arc. It’s more like a novel in vignettes, three in fact, that at first blush seem to be unrelated. The second vignette details Jake losing his job as an advertising executive and his girlfriend Lana going to a friend’s uninhabited rental property for a tryst, but the only problem is: someone lives there. The tenant shows up, points a gun at Jake and Lana, and they try to convince her not to shoot them or call the police. Though this scene is somewhat unbelievable to me and not my favorite part of the book, there is still Mora’s engaging dialogue and nuanced characterization of Jake and those around him.
The final vignette, “Becoming Jake” is heartfelt and funny and reminded me of John Updike’s “A&P,” in its youthful discovery of longing and a burgeoning identity coming about by accident. What unites these vignettes is how each of them, in their own way, are about how Jake becomes the famous novelist.
Virtual Velocity is a love letter to LA. Anthony Mora writes it in a beautiful way, rendering it real and true, and in so doing, makes the reader love it also. This is a cinematic book that breaks the story arc, telling a story in moments, about how a writer became a writer almost by accident, thanks to encounters with powerful women. Though it is a quick read, it feels full and complete. It’s perfect for any reader who enjoys tight dialogue, unconventional storytelling, and emotional surprises. Anthony Mora is an author to watch, and if I see more Jake Jensen books on the Los Angeles horizon, I will be there for it.
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
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