Fade into You is a novel about an L.A. girl attending an arts high school in the ’90s, but it’s not set in L.A’s fabled Westside, it’s set in the San Gabriel Valley. In American literature, the SGV is most prominent for being the place where James Ellroy’s mother was murdered in 1958—from Ellroy’s My Dark Places: “The region defined the crime. The region was the crime….”
In Nikki Darling’s slice of life, however, the SGV is a pleasant place for kids to ramble around and be nervous and petulant and not be notably adventurous. Had I not been reading it to meet a deadline, I would have placed it on the (figurative) nightstand and dipped in and out of it, as though it were the narrator’s diary. (The narrator’s name is Nikki Darling, but Darling the writer says in the acknowledgments that it’s a novel.)
When an everyday tragedy, surprising and inevitable, falls on the narrator just before the end of the novel, it hurt this reader to read about it; a power that I wouldn’t have felt without the novel’s drifter’s pace. As an adult, I know this kind of tragedy won’t go onto define the narrator, but the narrator can’t know that. The everyday-ness of the event is also why we rarely read about it in fiction. This rarity makes it all the more striking.
However, as with other first-novelists writing ground-level novels, Darling seems to have concluded that she’d better go big with the ending. It’s not bad—just out of place—but that’s okay: Fade into You is, like life, about the journey. –Jim Woster (Feminist Press, feministpress.org)