The world has run short of fresh water, and the great Dune Sea spreads across the west:
From space it seems a canyon. Unhealed yet scar-tissue white, a wound yawning latitudinal between the sluice grafts of Los Angeles and the flaking, friable, half-buried hull of Las Vegas (114)
Into this world head a dysfunctional family, two drifters who have overstayed California, and a foundling baby. They hope to make it to the other side, but the great Dune Sea, Amargosa, has other plans and peoples.
Title: Cold Fame Citrus
Author: Claire Vaye Watkins
First published in September 2015.
They had liberated the starlet’s cheery, grass-green Karmann-Ghia… and descended from their canyon to the desiccant city, to the raindance, free-for-all of burners and gutterpunks caterwauling and cavorting in the dry canals of Venice Beach, sending up music from that concrete worm of silt and graffiti and confettied garbage weaving fourfold through the nancy bungalows (16)
In the near future, we’ve run low on fresh water and a great dune sea spreads across the American west. Two young lovers and a foundling try to cross out of California, and find their lives entangled with a cultish colony that wants to preserve the dunes and the strange fauna they claim now inhabit it.
Luz rescues a child from a negligent group, and then they both get rescued from the dunes by a colony that appears to be thriving, opposes the corruption of the government, and may well have found wonders in the new desert world.
Gradually, our perception of Luz shifts (as does her perception of herself), and our perception of the colony transforms. Watkins ability to seduce us into considering one point of view (however skeptical we may be) and then reveal another, without playing us false, is remarkable, and well worth considering when we look at ourselves and our own world. The human capacity for mythmaking is boundless, and myths may inspire us or delude us. The same myth may do both.
And maybe myths aren’t what we need while the world wastes away.
The book’s first half proves that poetic style and readable, page-turning storytelling do not have to be at odds. The second half meanders, and does not address the numerous issues and developments in an entirely satisfying manner.
Originality: 5/6 For all the echoes of the post-apocalyptic literature of our day, from Station Eleven to The Walking Dead, Watkins’s second novel stands as a true original, written with deep understanding of human beings, human societies, and the myth-making that shapes both.
Imagery: 6/6 “The Amargosa is a wasteland because they need it to be a wasteland” (285) claims Levi, dowser and spiritual leader born from a truly burned-over district. He sees other things in the dunes, and shows them to Luz.
And then we begin to see other other things.
Emotional Response: 6/6
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Gold Fame Citrus receives 36/42