BOOK REVIEW: 'Tales from the Yoga Studio': The Next 'Sex and the City'?

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Tales from the Yoga Studio': The Next 'Sex and the City'?
You gotta love Los Angeles, where behind the phony tinsel lies the real tinsel. That's not original with me; it's from a particular favorite of mine,  writer/actor Oscar Levant (1906-1972): "Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel."

In Rain Mitchell's debut novel "Tales from the Yoga Studio" (Plume, an imprint of the Penguin Group, 288 pages, $15.00), tinselly L.A. stereotypes abound and many of them are true, at least from the perspective of this reviewer, who lived in L.A. for 16 years. The action in the novel, which is definitely geared to women readers, takes place in and around Edendale Yoga, run by Lee and Alan, transplants from Back East, defined broadly as anything east of the California state line.

Despite my total lack of knowledge of and interest in yoga, I enjoyed "Tales from the Yoga Studio." It has many of the elements that made Carrie Bradshaw's "Sex and the City" so popular (although I have to state that I rarely watched that HBO series).

Edendale is a part of the city's Silver Lake district, about five miles from downtown L.A.  Beginning just over a century ago, Edendale was the original Hollywood.  A little ancient history:  In 1909, when Hollywood was still a quiet farming and retirement community, the first permanent movie studios in Los Angeles were founded in Edendale, a natural valley on Allessandro Street (now Glendale Boulevard). Film moguls from the New York, New Jersey and  Chicago came to the area for the weather, and to get away from the pesky Edison patent people. First in the area was the Selig-Polyscope Company, where cinema cowboy legend Tom Mix made his first films in Los Angeles. Both the lot and Tom Mix were  taken over by Fox Studios, which also filmed Theda Bara's Cleopatra in Edendale. Soon after, the Bison studio gradually expanded to a 28-acre film lot that was taken over in 1912 by Mack Sennett's Keystone company. Walt Disney's first studio, before he moved to Burbank, was at 2719 Hyperion, where a  Gelson's supermarket now operates.
Enough ancient history.
Lee is the main attraction at Edendale Yoga, where the women and the few men in her class consider her the best yoga instructor in a town where everything gets rated. Her marital life is a mess, with her husband Alan moving out of their house in a trial separation to get the legendary space to revitalize his flagging music career (that's his story and he's sticking to it!). Lee is worried about the school her twins attend and is getting to be very un-Yoga like frazzled.

Katherine, the resident masseuse and a recovering alcohol and substance abuse addict, rides her pink Dutch bicycle to work and notices Conor Ross, a handsome firefighter who's just moved from Boston -- and he notices her riding her funky bike past the fire station. Will they make it as a couple? Stay tuned! Kat rents space from Lee and Alan in their studio, a former rug store, and, to add to the complications, Alan doesn't trust her with the cash receipts.

Yoga student Stephanie is trying to jump start her film producing career, while fighting the kind of addictions Kat has apparently left behind. Two other students that Mitchell draws so vividly are Graciela and Imani. Graciela has had to let go of her own independent, perfectionist streak so that she may heal properly before a career elevating dance audition; and Imani has had to let go of  guilt and sorrow over a  miscarriage and get her acting career going again.


Then there's Zhannette and Frank, whom we meet in person toward the end of the novel. Running YogaHappens, they know absolutely nothing about the details of yoga, but they're in it for the money, trying to consolidate the fragmented L.A. yoga scene by buying up places like Edendale Yoga and popular instructors like Lee. Think Starbucks and Borders (although Borders, like many chain bookstores, is in deep financial trouble.)


One constant in "Tales from the Yoga Studio" is that yoga is a form of mental and physical therapy for injured people -- and all people are injured at some time in their lives. The women who are the most versed in yoga turn out to be the worst at giving up on old emotions and habits, while the yoga novices seem to be better at surrendering control and accepting the hand life deals them.
"Tales from the Yoga Studio" is an excellent choice for a book club. A reader's guide is available online at www.penguingroup.com
About the author

Rain Mitchell began practicing yoga as a teenager, and is currently at work on the second novel in the series. Rain's favorite pose is savasana.
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