Some books just have a big heart. Maybe they weren’t meant to be written that way. Maybe they were. Panorama City by Antoine Wilson is one such book. I remember reading it on a Sunday afternoon and could not tear myself away from it for a single minute.
Panorama City opens with the protagonist Oppen Porter who is a lot like Forrest Gump, but I thought he was more intelligent than Forrest. Oppen is a twenty-eight year old man, who is a simpleton. He calls himself a slow absorber. We see him at the beginning of the book, moving from his hometown Madera for the San Fernando Valley and Panorama City, where his aunt lives. He does so as he has just buried his father and wants to leave his hometown to make something of himself. In his words, he wants to be a, “man of the world”.
Oppen’s aunt is weird. She is everything he doesn’t like being around with. She is a control freak and a religious fanatic. She gets him a job at the local fast food restaurant and lines up sessions for him with a local shrink. She wants to treat him as a project and whip him into shape.
Oppen as a character is endearing. You do not think he is challenged in anyway. He drifts from one situation to another and has his thoughts laid out. For instance, one person who makes a big impression on Oppen is Paul Renfro, a so-called philosopher (basically a con man), who meets him on the bus to LA and meets him again in Panorama City.
Oppen questions everything that he goes through in his life. His observations are peculiar and new and funny to a very large extent. He is convinced he is going to die young and wants to leave his story for posterity. He is telling his story into a tape-recorder from a hospital bed as a legacy for his unborn son, Juan-George. Yes that is another twist in the tale which surprises the readers. The book traces forty days and forty nights as the story unfolds.
Antoine Wilson has done something which maybe writers take a long time to do through their books – he makes the reader feel. He makes you relate to Oppen and surprisingly you do, even if you thought you couldn’t to begin with.
Panorama City spoke to me on many levels – on losing a parent, on death, on trying to survive in a world and go through it in a funny manner. Antoine’s writing is bittersweet and presents itself in long monologues, which works beautifully for the structure of the novel. The big questions of life are answered in a touching and funny manner and that is what I loved the most about the book. Panorama City is a sweet and tender book. It is the kind of book that unfolds hope and misgivings of life side by side and makes you hoot for Oppen. Antoine Wilson has done a wonderful job of the book. A must-read.