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Nothing to Declare: A Novel
Look at Jesse, a good-guy restaurant owner who’s got his life exactly how he wants it. Flash L.A. bistro, spiffy BMW, all-white condo overlooking the ocean. Then, boom, he receives a bombshell. He’s been named next of kin to Marty, the wild man and con artist who used to be his best friend. Never mind that they haven’t had a civil word in twenty years. Suddenly, Jesse’s forced to reckon with the past he’s been running from for more than two decades. Between a long ago love triangle, a road trip that leads from New England to Indonesia, and the voice of Marty, who may be dead but can’t shut up, Jesse’s got a lot to handle. It’s easy to get stuck on what really went down in the turbulent 1970s, when Jesse and his friends were smashing every rule in sight. To move forward, Jesse needs to figure out not just who he was but who he wants to be from now on. It’s hard to be a good guy all the time. As Marty liked to say, “I don’t trust anybody’s politics until I’ve seen him dance.”
An unexpected inheritance forces a reckoning with the past in Ravin’s calculated debut. In 1990, 30-something restaurateur Jesse Kerf learns he has been listed as next of kin for his former best friend Marty Balakian, despite having not spoken to him for years. He travels from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, where a lawyer explains Marty left him more than $8 million from his enterprise selling term papers to college students. The narration flashes back to spring 1973, when Jesse, then a desultory art student, and Marty impetuously move from Boston to Santa Cruz, Calif., where their attention is drawn to war protests, feminist demonstrations, and women on nude beaches. Their lives become complicated after Jesse meets VW-driving Emily Savonne at the end of the year; they date until the following summer, after she forms a triad with Marty and his girlfriend, Isabel Lantana. When Emily and Marty flee to Indonesia, a jilted Isabel launches a short affair with Jesse, but Marty’s return and ambitious plan for a clothing store has serious repercussions. While the plot can feel a little mechanical, Ravin adds a nice touch with snippets of narration from the deceased Marty. Readers with memories of the hippie dream will appreciate this rumination. (Self-published)