Welcome to Saint Angel, William Luvaas’s third novel (Anaphora Literary Press, March 2018), chronicles a small enclave of California nation during a severe drought.
I met with William Luvaas recently in Pasadena to discuss his new novel while the SoCal fires raged nearby.
Welcome to Saint Angel is the story of a loose-knit rural desert community that co-exists in relative harmony until greedy land developers force the inhabitants into camps that either support or oppose the overzealous development of their land, and the overuse of their water.
Al Sharpe, the novel’s central character, and one of its two narrators, moved to Saint Angel with his daughter after his wife dies in a plane crash. He is looking for a new start and names their home “Second Chance Acres.”
When Saint Angel’s homes and land becomes the target of drought deniers who seek to transform the desert into a suburban sprawl that will destroy the community and deplete its water, Al becomes the reluctant leader of a ragtag group of determined high desert resistors.
Luvaas effortlessly guides the reader through heartache and mystery, laughter and misery. He leads us in and out of every corner of Saint Angel as we bear witness to a battle between society’s losers and developer’s bulldozers. It’s a dead serious comedy, it’s an environmental fiction, with a steady drip of social satire.
Welcome to Saint Angel is inhabited by a compelling and sizeable cast of characters. An entire town full. Sure, many of them are two dimensional, but they all work. They all mean. They all matter. They all belong. It’s a community where everyone is reliant on each other – even when at odds with each other – in this harsh yet fragile natural setting.
The characters are so numerous that the town of Saint Angel steps in to narrate part of the novel. “That idea came pretty early,” Luvaas told me. “I wasn’t planning it, but I thought, maybe the place has something to say about all this.”
The place has a lot to say about everyone as it is aware of everyone’s business and thoughts – which makes sense in this close-knit, close proximity community.
“I like different voices very much,” Luvass added. “Taking that lesson from Faulkner and writers like Andre Brink, a south African writer. And Mario Vargas Llosa — I don’t know how he does what he does with point of view.”
Welcome to Saint Angel is a battle between people who can never have enough, wealthy people for whom the need for more victories is an addiction and those who oppose needless and heedless suburban sprawl that wreaks havoc on fragile environments.
The novel adds the value of community to the growing list of endangered species.
In the end, the land wins, and the people who care about the land win. Luvaas took a note from Shakespearean comedies that always end with an up. “I thought, well, they were together at first. Then they tear apart and they come together again. They kind of have to because they live together and no one is leaving.”
Welcome to Saint Angel is a love story. It’s about a love of the land, a love of place, a love of community, a love of humanity, flawed and full of missteps and mistakes as it may be. It’s about a love that connects people and places.
William Luvaas is the author of two previous novels, The Seductions of Natalie Bach, Going Under (HuffPost’s 2013 Book of the Year), and Beneath The Coyote Hills, and two story collections, and work has appeared in dozens of publications. Luvaas lives in Los Angeles with his wife Lucinda, an artist and filmmaker. More info @ williamluvaas.com.
Elan’s first novel, Finding Bluefield a road trip through the 1960’s, explores what happens when society’s invisible become visible. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in the Huffington Post, and elsewhere online and in print. Elan is a New Yorker by geography. A tortured Mets fan by default. More info at elanbarnehama.com / @elanbarnehama.