cover image I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness

Claire Vaye Watkins. Riverhead, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-33021-0

In this vivid if overstuffed outing from Watkins (Gold Fame Citrus), a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins returns to her hometown of Reno for a reading. The trip is meant as a brief respite for Claire from her husband and daughter, but it becomes a monthslong stay as she grapples with memories of those who are gone. Her late father, Paul, a member of the Manson Family, was described by her mother, the late Martha, as the cult’s “number one procurer of young girls.” Martha, meanwhile, died when Claire was in her 20s, either by an accidental opiate overdose or by suicide. She also remembers an ex-boyfriend who died in a car crash. And as Watkins catalogs her “maternal ambivalence” and “wifely rage,” she breaks the rules of her open marriage by falling in love with an extramarital partner. While Claire’s memories provide the narrative thrust, nearly a third is spent on her family’s history, including letters from Martha to her cousin from 1968 through the ’70s (“I think I’m mentally ill. Love is a fucking hassle”), and the material doesn’t quite illuminate Claire’s story or develop the plot. What makes this work is Claire’s raw sense of pain on the page, and the evenhanded honesty with which Watkins portrays her actions. Thought Watkins overreaches, her talent is abundant. Agent: Nicole Aragi. Aragi, Inc. (Oct.)