The much-anticipated first novel from a Story Prize-winning 5 Under 35 fiction writer. Read more...
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The much-anticipated first novel from a Story Prize-winning 5 Under 35 fiction writer.
In 2012, Claire Vaye Watkins s story collection, Battleborn, swept nearly every award for short fiction. Now this young writer, widely heralded as a once-in-a-generation talent, returns with a first novel that harnesses the sweeping vision and deep heart that made her debut so arresting to a love story set in a devastatingly imagined near future:
Unrelenting drought has transfigured Southern California into a surreal, phantasmagoric landscape. With the Central Valley barren, underground aquifer drained, and Sierra snowpack entirely depleted, most Mojavs, prevented by both armed vigilantes and an indifferent bureaucracy from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to internment camps. In Los Angeles Laurel Canyon, two young Mojavs Luz, once a poster child for the Bureau of Conservation and its enemies, and Ray, a veteran of the forever war turned surfer squat in a starlet s abandoned mansion. Holdouts, they subsist on rationed cola and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.
The couple s fragile love somehow blooms in this arid place, and for the moment, it seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. They head east, a route strewn with danger: sinkholes and patrolling authorities, bandits and the brutal, omnipresent sun. Ghosting after them are rumors of a visionary dowser a diviner for water and his followers, who whispers say have formed a colony at the edge of a mysterious sea of dunes.
Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
It's the near future: water is running out and a vast sand dune that covers whole towns is growing. Los Angeles is empty except for the hippies, survivalists, and grifters who've evaded the government-mandated evacuation. Ex-model Luz Dunn is on her way out of L.A. when she meets Ray, a soldier fresh from the "forever war." After taking in a toddler, they head for a rumored desert settlement—no simple task given the oppressive heat, gas and water shortages, and border guards. In her first novel, Watkins, a native Nevadan whose story collection Battleborn (which won multiple awards) was also set in the West, makes canny use of the region's history and myths, the way it's been shaped by dreamers (explorers, prospectors, Mormons, would-be starlets, Okies), and the limits of its water supply. Luz and Ray's story is the heart of the book, but Watkins adds an array of documents and voices depicting a West that provides nuclear-waste storage (and radioactivity) and "gold, fame, citrus"—as well as racism and government-controlled resource management. She's alive to the powerful pull of romantics, cultists, and saviors; with Levi Zabriskie—a master dowser, naturalist, conspiracy theorist, and leader of a desert community—in particular she's added a memorable character to their roster. The book is packed with persuasive detail, luminous writing, and a grasp of the history (popular, political, natural, and imagined) needed to tell a story that is original yet familiar, strange yet all too believable. Agent: Nicole Aragi, the Aragi Agency. (Sept.)