Book Review

31 Paradiso by Rhoda Huffey, reviewed by Marty Liboff

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, This seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, This little world, This precious stone set in a silver sea. This Venice.” Shakespeare

Book Cover

31 Paradiso Cover

Rhoda Huffey moved here by Venice Beach in 1991. Her 2nd novel has just been published called, 31 PARADISO. It is a wonderful semi biographical book about her moving to Venice in the 1990s. Rhoda says, “Yes, a lot of the stuff happened but of course I took fictional liberties.”

The novel is about Francine who was raised by charismatic evangelist parents. They move to Orange County from Iowa when Francine is a kid. When she grows up she falls in love with a man who isn’t religious and she rebels from her objecting parents and runs off with him. After some great years with her lover he gets cancer and dies and she begins to reconnect with her parents and siblings. She decides to leave her place where she lived with her man and reconstruct herself in another world, another planet called Venice Beach. “She rejoiced that every day in Venice was a Harvard education.”

Rhoda’s book travels through time and place. Her character Francine goes from her times with her lover and his cancer to her family to her move to Venice Beach. Francine also recounts a terrible family secret that had spoiled her childhood. Her father has been successful in real estate and she returns to her family to ask him to finance her buying a house with units in the back in crazy Venice Beach.

Venice Beach was completely different from Orange County and Francine meets all sorts of colorful characters. “Like any badlands, Venice was full of people not wanting to be found.” One tenant is a woman wrestler. She becomes friends with a short, dominatrix dancer and a German handyman. Crashing by her window is a burglar. There is a mad cat pyromaniac who wants to murder her and her poor cat. There is also a street musician and a host of other wild Venice denizens including the gangs and homeless neighbors and even the ducks in the canals. “In Venice there was always someone you could talk to.” Along with all the human characters we meet her dog Hank and her Siamese cat who keep her company in her Venice home.

Francine tries to make some money doing massage therapy and tries tap dancing along with her rentals to pay the mortgage. She loves dancing and feels it frees her body and soul. In real life Rhoda said, “When I first moved here I used to tap dance on the boardwalk.” With all the stresses from losing her true love to dealing with her eccentric, religious family, Francine temporarily turns to ‘happy pills’. Francine struggles with this demon until her dancing helps free her.

This is a fun book with lots of humor and pathos. She quotes Shakespeare that life can sometimes be a “comedy of errors.” Her main character Francine makes both comedic errors but also some very dangerous ones.

Rhoda Huffey still lives near the Ocean Front Walk with her husband Bill and her pets. “They feel fortunate to be in one of the original houses built in Venice Beach just steps from the Pacific Ocean.” She has written one other well received novel called, The Hallelujah Side and also several short stories. 31 PARIDISO is published by Delphinium Books and will by out in May. Rhoda will be having a book reading party at Small World Books on Thursday, May 12 at 6-8 pm.


Leave a Reply