This very literary novel spans a period from the end of the Civil War to the end of World War II. Though epic in scale, it restricts itself to a very small canvas: the growing city of Pasadena and the distant coastal village of Baden-Baden-by-the-Sea, and the two families whose destinies so tragically intertwine: the lower-class onion-growing immigrant Stamps, and the rich, grove-owning Poores, one of Pasadena’s first families. Linking them is the dark ungiving orphan Bruder, whose emotional unavailability brings tragedy to them both.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks to Andrew Blackwood, a real estate speculator, with his own tortured past, who wishes to buy the now-vacant rancho called The Pasadena. He is told the story of Bruder, the Poores, and the Stamps by real estate agent Cherry Ney. Cherry knew them all from the very beginning, though only Bruder now survives; the secret she is keeping is that the dying Bruder is the current owner of The Pasadena, and wishes to sell it to someone who will develop it into unrecognizability.
Comparisons to Wuthering Heights are inevitable, and despite the promotion and packaging, Pasadena is very much more a “romantic Gothic” than a Michener-esque saga of grand historical sweep. There are no happy endings or heroic characters here, and the mosaic effect of the framing device occasionally makes the storyline as difficult for the reader to follow as it is for Andrew Blackwood.