THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA

Mary Miller

Fifteen-year-old Jess is on a road trip to the end of the world. Her evangelical father has packed up the family and left their Alabama home behind to drive west in anticipation of the rapture, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and rebellious older sister, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop and gas station along the way. But as doomsday approaches, Jess can’t seem to work up any real fear about the apocalypse when her family’s troubles loom so much larger.

Sporting a “King Jesus Returns!” t-shirt,

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Fifteen-year-old Jess is on a road trip to the end of the world. Her evangelical father has packed up the family and left their Alabama home behind to drive west in anticipation of the rapture, hoping to save as many souls as possible before the Second Coming. With her long-suffering mother and rebellious older sister, Jess hands out tracts to nonbelievers at every rest stop and gas station along the way. But as doomsday approaches, Jess can’t seem to work up any real fear about the apocalypse when her family’s troubles loom so much larger.

Sporting a “King Jesus Returns!” t-shirt, Jess’s semi-earnest efforts to believe are thwarted by a string of familiar teenage obsessions. From “Will the world end?” to “Will I ever fall in love?” each tender worry is brilliantly rendered with equal emotional weight. With a deadpan humor and savage charm that belies a deep sympathy for her characters, Mary Miller captures the gnawing uneasiness, sexual rivalry, and escalating self-doubt of teenage life in America, where the end always seems nigh.

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  • Liveright
  • Paperback
  • September 2014
  • 256 Pages
  • 9780871408419

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About Mary Miller

Mary Miller is the author of the short story collection Big World. Her work has been published in Mcsweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Oxford American, and other journals. A former Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas, she currently serves as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. This is her first novel.

Praise

[A] terrific first novel. . . . [W]hy worry about labeling a book this good? Just read it.

New York Times Book Review

A humane, funny, and genuinely unsettling coming-of-age story that falls somewhere between the tales of Flannery O’Connor and Terrence Malick’s film Badlands. . . . The Last Days of California not only transcends its predecessor, but beats most debuts by a Texas mile. Even if the Metcalfs don’t make it to heaven, Miller’s readers have no choice but to ascend.” —Boston Globe

“[A] beautiful examination of youth and family. . . . Rarely, if ever, have we seen young American womanhood painted in such a raw and honest and heartbreaking way.

Los Angeles Review of Books 

Discussion Questions

Jess spends a lot of time describing the food she and her family eat on the road. What does food mean to Jess—why is it so significant, and do you think the kind of food she eats says something about her?

Jess believes that Elise’s looks make life easier for her. Do you agree? How would you describe Jess’s body image? Why do you think she is so observant of other peoples’ appearances?

What were your first impressions of each of the Metcalfs? How do your initial impressions change during their trip? Did any characters surprise you?

Jess doesn’t rebel as openly against religion as Elise does. How would you describe Jess’s faith? Do you think her belief in God changes?

After Jess’s experience with Gabe, Elise tells her, “You’re stronger than I am.” Jess disagrees. What makes Elise say that? Why doesn’t Jess believe it? Do you think it’s true?

Describe each Metcalf’s attitude toward the Rapture. Why do you think they go on the trip? Do you think they truly believe the end of the world is only days away?

What would you do if you believed the world was ending?

Jess’s mother is an enigmatic character. What do you think makes her tick? How would you describe her relationship with Jess? With Elise? Do you think her daughters know her well?

Does Jess’s experience of being a teenager remind you of your own? How so? Do you relate more to Jess or to Elise, or to another character entirely?

What do you think drives Elise’s rebellious and reckless attitude? What drives Jess’s relative caution? Does the close proximity of the road trip seem to alter their behavior?

During this trip, Jess has her first two sexual experiences. What precipitates each encounter? What does Jess get out of them, and how do they affect her?

How would you characterize Jess and Elise’s relationship? When is their relationship strongest, and when is it most fragile? Do you think theirs is a typical sibling relationship?

Why do you think the novel is called The Last Days of California?

How does the road trip change each of the Metcalfs? What do you think happens to them after the close of the novel? What kind of future do you see for Jess?