The tittle of this book intrigued me until around half-way through when it’s meaning was revealed.
After living in California myself for 3+ years I have plenty of reasons of my own to explain the seemingly-gravitational pull that many Americans feel towards California and the south west in general, however, the socio-economic explanation of the phenomenon posits the reasons as ‘gold, fame and citrus’.
In her novel by the same name, Claire Vaye Watkins paints an extreme version of all that is characteristic of the land of excess, albeit in a semi post-apocalyptic state after years and years of drought and an ever-encroaching and dynamic desert that spares nothing in its wake.
The west is near uninhabitable.
The natural (yet unrecognisable) landscape is well crafted as one of the major characters in this amazing novel, accompanied by a small cast of lost souls who find, and ruin each other with nothing more than unsubstantiated threats, control via the creation of an idyll against all odds and the human need to want and be wanted.
The beauty of these characterisations is that nothing beyond the shifting sand is ever substantiated. No bureaucracy or ruling power is ever revealed, threats, though exquisitely described by Levi, the charismatic leader of the Mojaves, do not materialise over the course of the novel and the relationships between the characters run their natural course. One that is beautifully scripted from the early pages.
Luz, Ray and baby Ig leave a comfortable hold-out, forced eastwards by a growing paranoia and into the belly of the Dune Sea. Searching for the America of old, or at the very least – water – they are saved only by the remnants of a society that ends up destroying them all, relying on the symbolism of one figure to evoke change, that is ironically nothing more than a throw-back to Luz’s past. An eerie circular narrative that doesn’t fully play out until the final pages of the book.
Such a gripping, gritty read. I loved Gold Fame Citrus. Not a crime, romance, comedic novel; Watkins beautifully lifts the scabs of the human condition and pokes at our ability to manipulate and control one another with nothing more than our words and actions.