Gold Fame Citrus

Claire Vaye Watkins. Riverhead, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59463-423-9
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.)
Reviewed on: 07/13/2015
Release date: 09/29/2015
Hardcover - 536 pages - 978-1-4104-8630-1
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-1-59463-424-6
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