I absolutely love well done epistolary novels, those told through…
Visceral responses to reading Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus: Just two. But they were mighty, man. The first was a big ball that made me feel like I was homebrewing gut-rot-dread in my belly; The second was a gasp that dang near Hoovered a sweater from Express’ 2014 fall collection that I’d left sitting on my dresser halfway across the room.
Holy cannoli, this book.
Luz is a billboard mascot, all grown up-ish. Where she was once the famous Baby Dunn, a benchmark for the fall of civilization — at least in the West — (ie: “Every swimming pool in California to be drained before Baby Dunn is old enough to take swimming lessons”) she is now a 25 year old living in the abandoned home of a starlet with Ray, a surfing fiend who had gone AWOL before they met (on the day she was supposed to leave California, but didn’t so now they’re illegally squatting in designer threads).
It’s not necessarily safe here. The Amargosa is a sea of sand that is swallowing whole homes, cities, mountain ranges and it’s headed toward Los Angeles
There are a few others like Luz and Ray, some more dangerous and Mad Maxian, skirting around Los Angeles’ underbelly. One night the young loves hit up a bonfire party with some wastoids and somewhere between a fact-finding mission for blueberries and sobering up, they end up stealing a 2-year-old from some rotten revelers. It’s probably for the best, but now they have to GTFO. With the help of a cult leader they’ve both slept with, they’re directed to the heart of the desert where they are assured they can escape to a healthier clime.
So they set out, this trio, and it’s hot and there are huge craters and travel requires some off-roading they had not banked on. Plus, they’ve got limited supplies and a tiny person to tend to and, oh, now they’re out of gas.
Where to begin. Where. To. Be. Gin. There is so much here, starting with the messed up relationships that lead to messed up responses to what-the-what. The main characters are dark, a little unknowable and unpredictable, total cult-leader bait for some reason. And for as stark and dry as the setting is supposed to be, the words are thick and colorful and so, so loaded into a story that leans in some weird places — like a man who has always been imprisoned, who carves TV characters out of talc. Because, of course! There is also the conspiracy theorist of the fake-moon-landing variety.
And I hope it is a Watkins-ism (I wouldn’t know, yet) to have the foresight to name the toy turtle belonging to a baby called Ig, also Ig.
There is such a bizarrely excellent love scene that starts with arms tangled in sleep and ends with one of his hands on her throat, and a finger curled into her mouth that it has to end up on some sort of best-of list somewhere.
There really, truly, is nothing like this novel. It sucks a player into a place a player doesn’t necessarily want to be, but might be desert-curious about.