Although never producing anything as ambitious as War and Peace, California authors have often attempted the panoramic novel -- one with wide focus and many characters. It’s a tricky task to keep everything under control without clogging the story with needless detail. Some readers may say the Tolstoy himself did not avoid such difficulties. The Famous Fifty includes several California panoramas, some more accomplished than others. Among them are The Octopus by Frank Norris, Oil! By Upton Sinclair, Storm and Fire by George R. Stewart, and The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright. Lesser known works of this type have also used California settings, sometimes with greater success. Here’s a list of unfamous panoramas, all well worth reading:
1. The Serpent’s Egg by David Duncan. The Bay Area during World War II.
2. The Western Shore by Clarkson Crane. UC Berkeley just after the end of World War I.
3. Teach the Angry Spirit by Cornelia Jessey. The L. A. barrio before the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943.
4. Of Streets and Stars by Allen Marcus. Hollywood in the early 1950s.
5. The Day of Souls by Charles Tenney Jackson. San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake and fire.
None of the books will show up at your local Barnes and Noble. The Day of Souls, in print because it’s out of copyright, is for sale on demand. Internet booksellers have plenty of used copies of Of Streets and Stars. The other books may be difficult (or impossible) to buy. All of them, however, are readily available through interlibrary loan.