California, by Edan Lepucki
I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. All content and opinions are my own.
The world is falling apart – slowly. Social order and access to goods is limited everywhere but in the crazy-expensive Communities defended from Pirates and whatnot by private security forces. Without many options available to them, Cal and Frida decide to leave the crumbling Los Angeles to live on their own in the wilderness, eking out an existence characterized by hard labor and isolation.
Let me say, at this point, that I think the experience of reading this book will be enhanced by knowing little about it. I, for example, knew next to nothing about it except that it was dystopian, had married main characters, and that Lepucki writes for The Millions. (You may have heard about it from Colbert.)
Though I don’t want to say too much, at some point, Cal(ifornia) and Frida set out to find the nearest civilization and find something unexpected.
I found California to be so readable. I really enjoyed the writing and Lepucki’s turn of a good phrase like the “useless necessities” that characterize modern American life and would do absolutely no good in a bad situation. Or this wry observation from Cal:
Word of Frida’s baking traveled as fast as gossip. Just an hour into Morning Labor and already three people had told Cal about Frida’s “sweet pancake,” which sounded to him like the name of an unfortunate and sparsely attended burlesque act.
Though California is probably best described as post-apocalyptic dystopian literary fiction (whew, that’s a mouthful), it also has elements of horror and thriller about it. The imagery is very vivid. I could see the shack and house where they lived. I could see the Land and especially the kitchen and tree house there. The horror bits, especially, were really good. There’s a bit about the psychological use of the color red that really stuck with me.
There were no pat answers here at all. I found that to be both a pro and a con. I wanted more answers about why government had clearly failed and what some of the characters were really up to. But there is no real explanation for the crumbling structure of society; no concrete explanations of what had happened to the children, for instance. But this, for me, ultimately seemed to me to reflect the realities of life. We do not know all of the answers.
Overall, California is a great book, with both excellent plot and character development. As a debut novel, it’s phenomenal. I’ll be looking out for Lepucki’s future work. And, I’ve got my fingers crossed that this will make it into the Tournament of Books.