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    How ‘Little Women,’ ‘American Psycho’ and the Kardashians inspired ‘Tehrangeles’
    • June 13, 2024

    The Milani sisters, daughters of an Iranian American frozen food magnate and would-be reality TV stars, are four very different young women largely confined to their massive, luxurious family home at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Tehrangeles,” a satire of the rich and TikTok-famous from acclaimed author Porochista Khakpour, is named for a cluster of Westside neighborhoods with a large Iranian American community. The novel has been in the works since 2011.

    “It was, sort of, for a while, a mischievous response to rejections,” says Khakpour about the novel’s origin during a recent video call. 

    Khakpour, whose 2007 debut novel, “Sons and Other Flammable Objects” won the California Book Award for First Fiction, was shopping around her follow-up, but the response wasn’t ideal.

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    “Editors were suggesting and pitching to me what they thought my second novel would be,” she explains. “I had a lot of popular essays at the time that were about Iranian American families and Iranian American women’s experiences, obviously about myself, so they wanted a more Iranian women-focused book, which was not my second novel at all.”

    So Khakpour began writing a book with an all-female, all-Iranian American cast simply as a means of entertaining herself. In the process, “Little Women” became a model for the story. “‘Little Women’ was always a book that I couldn’t stand,” she says. “I realized, in my research, that Louisa May Alcott also didn’t enjoy working on it, so that made me more interested.”

    Khakpour’s “tendency towards satire” emerged as she drafted and re-drafted versions of what would become “Tehrangeles.” Years passed. She published other books. Then, the pandemic hit. 

    “The pandemic just made it really perfect,” she admits. It provided a real-world situation of confinement that worked in Khakpour’s fictional story. But there was another advantage to the setting. “It also gave my characters an opportunity to behave pretty badly,” says Khakpour.

    The ringleader in “Tehrangeles,” is Roxanna, the second-born daughter who seems to have more in common with Kim Kardashian than Jo March. Reality TV helped shape the novel as well. 

    “I was most interested in the idea of the confessionals,” says Khakpour. “That was a format that I really liked that reality TV offers. You have a front story and the back story is delivered through this confessional format, which I thought was really interesting.”

    Within the family home, Khakpour visualizes a life of designer excess that few have seen in person. “There were outfits and furniture and things described in this book that I had never really seen,” she says. “I would have to Google things and encounter designers. I didn’t know that Bentley Home existed or Fendi did a home line.”

    Homa, the girls’ mother, spritzes rooms with Caroline’s Four Hundred, the signature fragrance of St. Regis Hotels and Resorts. “That was something that I had encountered in my research,” says Khakpour. “I really couldn’t even imagine it, but it was so specific that I was delighted by it.”

    TikTok proved to be handy in Khakpour’s research as well. “I would see all these TikToks talking about [high-end supermarket] Erewhon and fetishizing Erewhon’s horrible prices,” she says.

    Heightening the satire, Khakpour, who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, dug into outsider perceptions of L.A. glitz. “The fetishization by outsiders is really bizarre because that’s not the L.A. that most of us grew up in,” says Khakpour. “That’s not the L.A. that most of us relate to at all, but it’s this surface, weird Hollywood L.A. that a lot of people love.”

    And as the Milani sisters, who are in their teens and very young adulthood, live with few restrictions on either their spending or behavior, there are echoes of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel “Less Than Zero,” 

    “Definitely the atmosphere of ‘Less Than Zero,’ which is dystopian and these rich kids kind of throwing their lives away in L.A.,” Khakpour acknowledges with a laugh. “I love that about the book. I actually think that ‘Less Than Zero’ is probably one of the best books about L.A. that there is.”

    Ellis, it turns out, was a significant source of inspiration for Khakpour while writing “Tehrangeles.” 

    “I had to repurchase ‘Glamarama’ when I was working on it because I really loved the way that every sentence in ‘Glamarama’ is packed with inner references,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that it made sense and I remember that he did it really well.”

    She also notes that, within “Tehrangeles,” the essays the characters write as content for their reality show are a nod to Ellis, particularly Patrick Bateman’s asides on subjects like the band Genesis in “American Psycho.” 

    “I love ‘American Psycho.’ I really do love a lot of what Bret Easton Ellis writes and I love those sections and how they bring this local color to life. They have such an exciting way of parroting the setting in a way,” says Khakpour. “There’s a lot of texture in ‘American Psycho’ that people don’t think about. It almost, to me, feels like a ‘Moby Dick,’ where people have to read it to know about how great it is.”

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    ​ Orange County Register