Culver City by Brant Vickers book review
book review

Book Review: Culver City

CULVER CITY by Brant Vickers is coming of age in magical realism—a story set in both Old and New Hollywood. Check out what Madeline Barbush has to say in her book review of this indie historical novel.

Culver City

by Brant Vickers

Genre: Historical Fiction / Young Adult

ISBN: 978-1639885473

Print Length: 316 pages

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Reviewed by Madeline Barbush

Coming of age in magical realism—a story set in both Old and New Hollywood

Culver City tells the story of two teenage best friends, Kyle and Cassady, growing up in the late 60s-early 70s, West L.A.. The mischievous boys (and girls) I grew up with were smoking weed in a hidden-from-plain-view parking lot, but Kyle and Cassady sneak into the old MGM Backlot studios, occasionally while on drugs, and get into their own type of trouble. 

Brant Vickers has a real handle on what makes YA historical fiction exciting. He creates a strong setting foundation and combines the devastating heartbreaks and realizations of our teenage years with deliciously fantastical elements like evil spirits, other realms, and, perhaps most dreamy of all, Old  Hollywood. 

The slow and seamless blend of realism and surrealism in the characters’ world(s) messes with our own heads in the best way. Vickers keeps us guessing as to what we’ll find down the rabbit hole. 

This novel hooks us from the very beginning, throwing us into the thick of it all: our heroes Kyle and Cassady jump the fence into one of MGM’s Backlots, just for kicks, but then sense that something more presides in the space besides the old creepy sets from years ago. While other boys who have done the same were spooked into never returning, Kyle and Cassady are drawn back onto the sets and find much more than they or anyone else could have imagined. 

While exploring Tara, the set for Gone with the Wind, they mystically encounter the old actors who starred in the film, Vivian Leigh and Leslie Howard, essentially as spirits. Away they go, not missing even one set on the lot, and the Backlot becomes almost their obsession. As their visits increase, the boys begin to get consumed with the magical worlds that come alive, and real life begins to take a backseat. Kyle and Cassady will be tested as individuals and as friends. Will the two best friends put this world before reality? Will they be able to decipher which is which?

Culver City is a clever portrayal of what is at the root of two people painfully growing apart. Whether it’s a friendship, romance, or anything in between, our ideals change and the gap this creates grows larger and wider. 

“How can anything that feels so good actually be good? It goes against everything I’ve been told about stuff like this.” 

The reader will find that the characters’ differing experiences of the same place and people is what makes the novel so interesting. We can get pulled in so many directions, but what matters is if we can come back together  after it all and still connect to one another. Vickers shows us that we can only stretch so far before the thread between us snaps, and as a young adult or not, everyone can relate to Kyle and Cassady’s changing relationship. 

Not only does Vickers have a handle on Hollywood and the significance of the stories told on those lots, he also shows his respect for novelists before him by doing justice to the genre of magical realism. The characters and settings that we come across in the Backlots, and the shifting between what is real and not, remind me so much of my favorite magical realism novels, particularly Pedro Oáramo by Juan Rulfo. Rulfo, like Vickers, exploits the innocence and self-searching qualities of a young man and tests him to his very limits. The character experiences a world dead to all, except, for some reason, him. Both authors have us searching for the secrets of such a magical place right alongside the characters, and they both make such a magical world feel so real that they make us want to get lost in it forever. 

I recommend Culver City to anyone who loves stories within stories, worlds within worlds. Vickers makes his novel feel something like Stranger Things mixed with acid and Old Hollywood. Decades collide, but the heart of Vickers’ novel is timeless. 

What happens to two best friends when their paths, once shared, veer off into other directions or, in this case, dimensions? If you’re a young adult, there’s no doubt that Vickers will make you feel seen, and if you’re just a plain old adult, you’ll be brought back to a time when heartbreak was new and friendships were meant to last forever. 

Thank you for reading Madeline Barbush’s book review of Culver City by Brant Vickers! If you liked what you read, please spend some more time with us at the links below.

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