By Matt Liebowitz
California. The name means millions of different things to millions of different people. To the four main characters in author David Prybil’s darkly humorous and touching first novel, “Golden State,” it’s the home, or supposed home, of the American Dream where, as Prybil says, “hope springs eternal” no matter what unexpected hardships they endure.
“It’s the Oz at the end of the yellow brick road, where people think anything is possible,” Prybil said.
Set against the backdrop of the 2003 California gubernatorial election, Golden State, which Prybil will read from on Friday, Oct. 14, at the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild’s Fall Author Talk Series, follows the lives of two men and two women who stake their dreams, and their livelihoods on the change and renewed hope they believe Arnold Schwarzenegger will bring to Sacramento.
Prybil is careful not to give too much of this fast-paced and engrossing story away, but he says that the characters, in striving towards their “misbegotten dreams” and goals, “don’t necessarily achieve them,” but that, despite their flaws and their skewed ambitions, “they achieve something.”
About the characters, whose lives and dreams intertwine amidst the election: There’s realtor Missy Carver, working to find the new dream home for the governor and his wife; depressed news reporter Spencer Brine, working up the ranks at the Sacramento Bee; former local high school sports star Todd Tisdale who hopes to befriend Schwarzenegger in order to save his failing tuxedo shop; and tanning salon employee Rowena Pickett, desperate for love.
Prybil chose the 2003 election, a brief but bizarre period in our (recent) history, because it serves as a perfect template upon which he could explore the philosophical underpinnings of the American Dream, and what keeps people “still chugging towards it.”
Following Gray Davis’ term, Prybil said, “it was just crazy. There were no rules. Nobody had ever seen anything like it.” About Schwarzenegger’s election, he said, “It was such a bizarre, unprecedented thing — it was like a reality show.”
Schwarzenegger, who announced his candidacy on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and, two months later, won the governor’s seat, was a fascinating example of ambition and achievement and all the things the American Dream promises.
“People saw Schwarzenegger, who had no qualifications for the job, win, and they thought, ‘My dreams can come true,’” Prybil said.
Could anything as unusual and groundbreaking as the election that frames his novel happen again?
“Truth is always stranger than fiction,” Prybil said. “I wouldn’t put it past this state for a second.”
In some ways, Prybil’s own life is a version of the same American Dream that spurs his characters along.
Prybil grew up “everywhere but California,” including Massachusetts, Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Iowa. After high school in Richmond, Va., he went to college at the University of Michigan and then earned his JD and MBA at Indiana University.
But it was a production assistant job on the set of the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” — a “big movie with big stars,” he called it — that set the course for Prybil’s own Hollywood career.
His responsibilities at the time, (he was 23) including scouting antique stores for director Penny Marshall, finding private golf courses for the producers to play on Sundays, and building stadiums and costuming thousands of extras on sets in Indiana, Kentucky and Cooperstown, N.Y.
“It was like being part of a traveling circus,” Prybil said of the film.
The experience lit a fire that is still burning: He moved to Los Angeles in 1994, passed the bar — though he said “I knew I wasn’t going to practice law” — and eventually worked his way up the ranks at Paramount studios, from reader to story editor to director of development.
Golden State incorporates the knowledge Prybil’s gained from 15 years of working in the entertainment business — “I spent years with a Sisyphean stack of screenplays,” he said — as well as an admiration for the storytelling techniques director Paul Thomas Anderson employed in “Magnolia” and those used by Robert Altman in the 1975 film “Nashville.”
And while there’s more than a bit of absurdity surrounding the real-life events that make up Golden State, Prybil is in no hurry to leave his home state.
“I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
In fact, Prybil is already at work on the follow-up to Golden State, titled “The Works.” Set in Orange County, the novel will again explore the American Dream as seen through three very different sets of eyes: An Internet billionaire building his dream estate overlooking the ocean; the contractor hired for the project; and an illegal immigrant working on the massive job.
The RSF Library Guild’s Fall Author Talk Series is this Friday (Oct 14) at 6 p.m. To make a reservation (and receive the event address), call the Guild office at (858) 756-4780 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.