zinester-turned-novelist bill Brown's specialty is capturing ephemeral cultural movements in the most unlikely places -- hence, the title of his travel zine, Dream Whip. His first novel, Saugus To The Sea, catalogues L.A.'s hidden underground. Yeah, L.A. actually has an underground. Beyond the Hollywood wannabes, sunshine beaches, smog and traffic, there's a world of guerrilla gardeners, straight-edge punks and bicycling activists.
The slacker protagonist, aptly named Billy Brown, installs and maintains underground sprinkler systems around the California everytown of Saugus. One day he finds a strip of subterranean hand-decorated sprinkler heads extending into the Mojave Desert that switch on randomly, creating circles of green in the arid landscape. They pose an obstacle to development by turning quake-prone soil into sinkholes and rotting building foundations.
Billy discovers a mysterious road called Saugus to the Sea on an ancient map and decides to go for a bike ride, only to discover that the road doesn't physically exist. When he hunts down the map's creators to question them, he unearths a connection between the missing road, an earthquake that the Cal Tech Earthquake Hotline didn't report and some Arbor Day anarchists who want to turn Hollywood Boulevard into a forest preserve.
Billy's an atypical detective. He digs (or rather stumbles) around uncovering facts that never fully coalesce into a solution to the mystery but instead offer potential reasons for the shady goings-on.
Brown's writing -- half travel diary, half mystery -- itself frequently stumbles into subtly beautiful territory. The text is accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings by Vancouver's Brad Yung, creator of the long-time cartoon zine Stay As You Are.
Take my advice: buy this book before it disappears like the fringe culture it depicts.Write Books at email@example.com
Saugus To The Sea by Bill Brown (Smart Cookie Publishing), 186 pages, $21 paper. Rating: NNN