This is an incredible first novel written by the young and talented Claire Vaye Watkins. It’s a love story and end of the world story. Drought has gripped California and only a few holdouts remain, living on rations and scavenging the rest. A young couple, Luz and Ray, find their love blossoming in this god-forsaken place. Suddenly they encounter a reason to leave and their journey begins.
The book was gripping and a real pleasure to read start to finish. I was reminded of John Steinbeck and Joan Didion in the sense of how they portray and embody the spirit and nature of California. It’s basically a near-future post apocalyptic Grapes of Wrath. If you remember correctly, Steinbeck’s novel follows a family forced to leave their farm and go west for work in California. The heartbreaking portrait of an American tragedy amidst the Dust Bowl migration.
Gold Fame Citrus takes this dust bowl to an extreme. Most of the Western United States is a dessert and the once verdant California is now dying. Californians, now pejoratively called Mojavs, are environmental refugees in their own country.
Their dilapidated house is just one amidst a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Dry, hot, filthy, and dangerous. They are horribly unhealthy, barely have any access to water, and dig out their own toilets. Los Angeles is at the edge of a boundless desert separating them from the east coast. Once they journey out of Los Angeles the story shifts like sand.
I love this book because it is unflinching in its look at America. On its cultural ethos, its mythology, and even how it treats prisoners and vets is intriguing. The style of the book changes as the story progresses, and it is at times experimental and fun.
Our flawed main characters are intriguing and complicated. There is a journey of discovery of the self and others in this delirious love story. I love that the book takes place in the near future because it made it all the more mind-bending.
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Featured image via California Energy Commission