cover image The Golden State

The Golden State

Lydia Kiesling. MCD, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-16483-6

Kiesling’s intimate, culturally perceptive debut portrays a frazzled mother and a fractious America, both verging on meltdown. Thirty-something Daphne works for the Institute for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations at a San Francisco university while raising her 16-month-old daughter, Honey, alone. Daphne’s Turkish husband, Engin, has been denied reentry into the United States. Daphne is also haunted by the death of a student, who was traveling on Institute funds. Tired of waiting for Engin to be allowed back and reaching the edge of a breakdown, Daphne packs up Honey and heads to Northern California’s high desert to take refuge in the house she inherited but rarely visits. She fixes tuna sandwiches and pancakes, finds her mother’s pomegranate-themed ornaments and collectibles, and attends her mother’s now nearly empty church, but the safety and emotional connection to her own childhood she seeks prove as tenuous as overseas communication with Engin in Istanbul or the local ventures that ensnare her: neighbor Cindy’s anti-government, anti-immigration secessionist movement and 92-year-old Alice’s scheme to visit the work camp where her husband served during World War II. Kiesling depicts parenting in the digital age with humor and brutal honesty and offers insights into language, academics, and even the United Nations. But perhaps best of all is her thought-provoking portrait of a pioneer community in decline as anger and obsession fray bonds between neighbors, family, and fellow citizens. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME Entertainment. (Sept.)