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Gold Fame Citrus


Gold Fame Citrus

The future, according to popular literature, will be a dangerous world full of disasters, zombies and teenage heroes. Dystopian scenarios are all the rage and for good reason. These stories challenge us to consider not only our fears but also the consequences our actions may reap. From biological warfare to artificial intelligence to totalitarianism, dystopian literature shows us the worst possible outcomes for our short-sightedness and foibles. In GOLD FAME CITRUS, Claire Vaye Watkins explores the expected dystopian tropes but with a postmodern style that moves between increasingly strange and unreliable perspectives.

An extreme drought has devastated California and turned the American southwest into a sea of ever-shifting sand dunes. Twenty-five-year-old Luz Dunn --- a former model and, as “Baby Dunn,” a poster child for the conservation movement --- is living with her boyfriend, Ray Hollis, in the abandoned mansion of a Hollywood starlet. Ray, a combat veteran still suffering from nightmares, does most of the work around the house --- from digging their latrine pit to procuring food. Luz spends her days in the starlet's clothing, reading John Muir and drinking ration cola. Their existence is at once decadent and spartan, and water remains elusive and much sought after.

"[T]he detours into back story and delusion are effective in this original, frightening, enjoyable and even spiritual take on the dystopian novel."

One night, after obtaining some blueberries and partying with a group of rough and intoxicated “Mojavs,” Luz is approached by a little girl, not more than two years old. Inarticulate and strange, the child seems uncared for and untended to, and Luz feels immediately protective of her. Together Luz and Ray make the rash and dangerous decision to take the girl, called Ig, away with them and leave California in search of water and a safer life. The trio set out in the starlet's car with few provisions and vague plans to make it to a rumored settlement where Ray's AWOL status won't be a problem. But they get waylaid by sinkholes, and the sun is unbearably hot. They run out of gas, and Ray leaves Luz and Ig behind to get help; he never returns and maybe never intended to.

Suffering from severe dehydration and heat stroke, Luz and Ig are rescued by a group of rebellious Amargosa settlers led by the charismatic Levi Zabriskie. Levi's conspiracy theories and ability to find water in the seemingly bone-dry landscape attract and mystify Luz. She and Ig, tended to by a woman named Dallas, recover among Levi's small group, ever moving their camp to stay ahead of the dunes. They have fresh food and water, as well as a narcotic root to keep them all content while Levi plots to expose the government's responsibility for the destruction of the southwest. And soon, Luz and Ig become the lynchpin in his plan. Of course, not all is as it seems with Levi, and instead of an inspired leader, he may just be a manipulative sadist. When a not-so-surprising figure arrives at the camp, Luz must decide between her belief in Levi's ideas and her love for Ig and the hope of a more stable, peaceful and ultimately attainable future.

Themes of ecology and place, family and identity, partnership and sex, longing and destitution circle around and around in the novel in inventive and riveting ways. Watkins plays with the mythos of the American west, and makes her characters fiercely independent individuals but with a desire to be charmed and led at any cost.

There is much to enjoy and admire about GOLD FAME CITRUS. Luz is particularly well-drawn, engagingly flawed and interesting. Ray's motivations are less clear, and Ig is more of a symbol than a fully realized character, though a compelling symbol at that. Levi and Dallas often feel like stock characters, though Watkins uses them to express powerful ideas and emotions. The shifts in perspective and narrative style are a bit jarring, especially as the action taking place with Luz, Ray and Ig is a solid story without them. Watkins' style is lovely and literary, strange, frank and quite readable. There is no doubt about her talent and vision.

GOLD FAME CITRUS sometimes seems to lose sight of itself, but the detours into back story and delusion are effective in this original, frightening, enjoyable and even spiritual take on the dystopian novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 9, 2015

Gold Fame Citrus
by Claire Vaye Watkins

  • Publication Date: October 4, 2016
  • Genres: Dystopian, Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 1594634246
  • ISBN-13: 9781594634246