Dead in Long Beach, California: A Novel (Paperback)

Dead in Long Beach, California: A Novel By Venita Blackburn Cover Image
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Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2024 by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Today, Electric Literature, Alta, the Chicago Review of Books and The Millions

"Told by machines from the future, Blackburn’s idiosyncratic grief novel is as freshly devastating as they come." —The New York Times Book Review

"You can try bracing yourself for the ride this story takes you on, but it's best to just surrender. Your wig is going to fall off no matter what you do." —Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives

A gut-busting and heartbreaking descent into one woman's fraying connection to reality, from a soon-to-be superstar.

Coral is the first person to discover her brother Jay’s dead body in the wake of his suicide. There’s no note, only a drably furnished bachelor pad in Long Beach, California, and a cell phone with a handful of numbers in it. Coral pockets the phone. And then she starts responding to texts as her dead brother.

Over the course of one week, Coral, the successful yet lonely author of a hit dystopian novel, Wildfire, becomes increasingly untethered from reality. Blindsided by grief and operating with reckless determination, she doubles —and triples—down on posing as her brother, risking not only her own sanity but her relationship with her precocious niece, Khadijah. As Coral’s swirl of lies slowly closes in on her, the quirky and mysterious alien world of Wildfire becomes enmeshed in her own reality, in the process pushing long-buried memories, traumas, and secrets dangerously into the present.

A form-shifting and soul-crunching chronicle of grief and crisis, Venita Blackburn’s debut novel, Dead in Long Beach, California, is a fleet-footed marvel of self-discovery and storytelling that explores the depths of humankind’s capacity for harm and healing. With the daring, often hilarious imagination that made her an acclaimed short-fiction innovator, Blackburn crafts a layered, page-turning reckoning with what it means to be alive, dead, and somewhere in between.

About the Author

Venita Blackburn is the author of the story collections Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, which won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Young Lions Fiction Award and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and How to Wrestle a Girl, which was a finalist for the 2022 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker online, The Paris Review, Pleiades, Bat City Review, and American Short Fiction. She is a faculty member in the creative writing program at Fresno State University and the founder and president of Live, Write, an organization devoted to offering free creative writing workshops for communities of color.

Praise For…

"[Blackburn's] sentences zing with lively precision . . . as the narrative scaffolding stabilizes, we see how Coral’s grief is braced within it — held alight, too, by the disarming humor and vivacity of Blackburn’s prose. Told by machines from the future, Blackburn’s idiosyncratic grief novel is as freshly devastating as they come." Megan Milks, The New York Times Book Review

"There are no wasted words in the fictions of Venita Blackburn. Her stories are quick as lightning; her sentences, entire lifetimes flashing by. A clause might pierce a character’s frailties, a word might tip the analysis into absurdity . . . In this enthralling story about farcical invention in the face of calamitous grief, the writing is taut as ever. " —Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times

"The authoritative and bizarre voice of the guides gives the book a playful quality that keeps it buoyant. They describe Coral’s actions, and human activity as a whole, with a bemused distance that allows Blackburn to place humor and whimsy alongside the sorrow." —Stephen Kearse, The Washington Post

"Dead in Long Beach, California deploys Blackburn’s signature, crystalline, time-bending sentences to heart-stopping, stay-up-all-night-reading effect." —Rita Bullwinkle, Interview Magazine

"A masterful feat of storytelling . . . a profound and surprising demonstration of how there’s no way to fully outrun or outmaneuver or out-strategize the pain of loss." —Stef Rubino, Autostraddle

"[A] conceptually ambitious, delightfully queer novel. . . The beauty of Blackburn’s fun and complex novel, in other words, resides in its intense discernment of our species as a troubled, self-destructive, glorious one." —Anita Felicelli, Alta

"Dead in Long Beach, California examines trauma, desire, grief, hunger, loss, and our society at large in an inventive, form-shifting novel that truly no one but the singular Venita Blackburn could’ve written." —Rachel León, Electric Lit

"With her debut novel, Dead in Long Beach, California, Blackburn uses her ability to zero in on the intricacies of a minute moment and explode that attention outward, creating an inventive, arresting investigation of how a person can stall and spin out in grief."— Michael Colbert, Shondaland

"Dead in Long Beach, California is the work of a gifted writer who understands love bonds, family, death and inevitability, but also has a sense of humor about all of the above. Blackburn’s novel presents grief as memory puzzle, grief as creative license, grief as fuel for delusion and awakening." —Naomi Elias, KQED

"Venita Blackburn's prose is stunning, sensitive and that-made-me-snort funny. Richly layered and ambitiously structured, this unconventional novel about death and denial is bizarre in the best way." Lucy Tu, Scientific American

"Despite the heavy subject matter, sensitively handled, this is frequently a deeply funny novel . . . Blackburn shares a deep intellect and odd sensibility with authors like George Saunders and Rion Amilcar Scott, but this novel is its own thing: intelligent, bizarre, and brilliantly written. An astonishing debut novel from a remarkably creative writer." Kirkus (starred review)

"An engaging and original portrait of a woman on the verge . . . Blackburn is formidable, her writing is experimental in intriguing and meaningful ways, and this is another winner." Booklist

"Bold and formally inventive . . . Blackburn is an excellent prose stylist. Coral’s sections are full of acerbic wit . . . This ambitious effort is worth a look." Publishers Weekly

"Dead in Long Beach, California is somehow both tender and incredibly sharp. It's mesmerizing in its ability to twist inward on itself; a genuine ouroboros of pain and loss. Venita Blackburn's writing here is profoundly gorgeous. At every turn, I found myself split between laughter and tears. An incredible look at how we work to divert the flow of grief, only to find those tributaries suddenly rejoined without our consent, the pain we wished to avoid flowing directly back to us. This book rewired my brain; it's a bonafide knockout." —Kristen Arnett, author of With Teeth

"I've been waiting for a novel like the one Venita Blackburn has just unleashed on us. Grief as a science-fiction itself, grief as a fount of absurdity and mad laughter, grief as a time travel machine locked inside a person's body. You can try bracing yourself for the ride this story takes you on, but it's best to just surrender. Your wig is going to fall off no matter what you do." —Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives

"Utterly original and bitingly funny, Dead in Long Beach, California is one of the most riveting compendiums of what makes us tick and ticked off. Hair, online dating, grief, ghosts, mental health, death, global warming, childrearing, and relative fame are only a handful of the topics that Venita Blackburn tackles with ease, revealing a mind that is truly one-of-a-kind. And this novel is a testament to the belief that, despite our world's madness and mayhem, we can and will do better. Blackburn's presence in this literary landscape isn't only refreshing, it's necessary." —Mateo Askaripour, author of Black Buck

"Riveting in its style and innovations of form, Venita Blackburn has given us a wholly original, moving, gorgeous novel in Dead in Long Beach, California. An education of the mind and heart alike. Chef’s kiss, pick it up." —Sarah Thankam Matthews, author of All This Could Be Different

"A spell-binding meditation on grief, loss, and familial obligation. Dead in Long Beach, California delves into the aftermath of an unexpected death to illuminate what it means to be alive." —Jonathan Escoffery, author of If I Survive You

“Wry, subversive, and gorgeously inventive. In Dead in Long Beach, California, Venita Blackburn explores disorientation, deception, and the impulse toward connection in the aftermath of grief.” —Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, author of My Monticello

"A prismatic, genre-defying novel where the past is layered over the present and where grief takes on a life of its own. With dazzling dark humor, Venita Blackburn captures the awful and wonderful strangeness of what it means to be alive in the twenty-first century. Dead in Long Beach, California is achingly honest, always surprising and unlike anything I’ve read before." —Elaine Hsieh Chou, author of Disorientation

"A luminous, propulsive reflection on grief and the love that underlies it." —Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of On the Rooftop

"Venita Blackburn's Dead in Long Beach, California is a remarkable novel. A profound mix of imagination, sadness, and humor that is truly unlike any other book I've ever read." —Megan Giddings, author of The Women Could Fly

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250338129
ISBN-10: 1250338123
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: January 21st, 2025
Pages: 240
Language: English