“Rifkin’s characters are ruined, desperate creatures, comic and soulful, perpetually in line for a ladle full of redemption.” —Hammer Museum

“Rifkin is what might have happened had Nathanael West lived on and been even more talented . . . . Exquisite.” —Kirkus Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle Review
Alan Rifkin's Signal Hill by Max Winter

The five relaxed and quietly funny stories in "Signal Hill" describe the lives of modern Los Angelenos as webs of happenstance and muted catastrophe; Rifkin's touch, meditative and gentle, is sometimes too refined for its own good.

These stories show the sometimes alienating effects of reaching too far in search of validation. In "Sonority," a man leaves his wife for another woman, only to lose interest in her upon finding out she's slept with someone else. The narrator of "The Idols of Sickness" recalls his youthful admiration of his ability to fold in upon himself, quenched when a medical textbook tells him that one famous self-contorter nearly kept his testicles from descending.

Of course, sometimes over-extension leads to discovery. In "The Honor System," a couple get acquainted while tracking down the president of the Death Valley chapter of the Lainie Kazan Fan Club, called the 4,000-Foot Club. In the title story, ex-actor Leviton, a journalist, falls in, and out of, and in love with a saucy divorcee, becoming involved not only in his lover's life but in the life of his lover's son -- even flirting with the son's girlfriend when the two youngsters break up.

Rifkin's characters, free-floating loci of anxiety, are sympathetic but never quite grab us by the collar. Their restrained confusion has an offhand allure that recalls Denis Johnson's work, but Rifkin's brand is less compelling than Johnson's because it's slightly less desperate. Although Rifkin guides us through this collection with poise, the stories could use a bit more punch.