cover image Death Valley

Death Valley

Melissa Broder. Scribner, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-66802-484-3

In the infectious and dreamy latest from Broder (Milk Fed), a Los Angeles woman finds new ways to deal with anxiety and depression after discovering a fantastical giant cactus in the California desert. The unnamed narrator, a 40-something married novelist coping with her father’s recent car accident and his continued stay in the ICU, takes a solo road trip for some relief. She checks into a Best Western hotel in Death Valley, Calif., telling herself the excursion will also help inspire her novel in progress, which she expects to feature a desert-based epiphany. While hiking on a trail near the hotel, she sees a towering cactus and passes through a portal on its surface. Inside, she encounters a five-year-old version of her father and comforts him. It’s a funhouse warping of the care she misses from her dad, which she hasn’t had since she was a child. Later, in between successive hikes to the cactus, she has brief FaceTime calls with her father in the hospital and with her husband, and continues to feel distant from both men. During the fourth hike, she gets lost and learns to summon her survival instincts. Despite the novel’s intense interiority, Broder’s narrator is consistently companionable; the story works because she enjoys talking to herself, a personality quirk Broder finds clever ways to convey (“I am overextended and cannot fulfill your request at this time. Best, me,” she imagines writing to herself as an away message). Readers ought not to miss this magical tale of survival. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Gernert Co. (Sept.)