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Golden State


Golden State

California voters are turning out to protest or support a proposed plan to secede from the nation. It is a chaotic backdrop for what will be a life-altering day in the life of San Franciscan physician Julie Walker.

Julie and her husband, Tom, have just signed divorce papers. Her sister, Heather, calls from a hotel room, saying she is in labor. Julie has reluctantly promised to deliver Heather's baby. Now, as Julie leaves the radio station at which Tom works, she first twists her ankle terribly, most likely fracturing it, and then finds her car has been rendered inoperable by vandals. With Heather's words echoing in her ear ("It's time."), Julie has no spare moments to have her ankle examined and set. She must reach her sister as soon as possible.

"GOLDEN STATE is an exquisitely wrought piece of storytelling that is sure to linger in the mind long after the last page is read."

Julie begins a torturous journey through a city landscape transformed by the historic events of the day. A whirring helicopter drops election propaganda, while in the distance smoke signals a large fire. California's fate has incited looting, riots and shouting matches. Julie is somewhat comforted by listening to a radio she's carrying. It's tuned to KMOO and the voice of her disc jockey husband. Tom plays music that speaks directly to Julie, songs significant to their shared past and containing coded messages to her. A Billy Idol song reminds Julie of meeting Tom 15 years ago at a concert in which a tall stranger lifted her from her horizontal position held high in the air by the crowd. From that night forward, it was Julie and Tom together. Then it was a blissful family of Julie, Tom and Ethan…until it was simply Julie and Tom again, childless.

As she travels and listens, trying to distract herself from nearly unbearable pain, Julie contemplates how her marriage to Tom, once so strong, unraveled after they lost their son. She must inevitably also consider the manner in which Heather instigated their loss. Her sister has returned to her life after many years, now spouting an unbelievable tale about her child's father. Given Heather's lifelong tendency to lie and spin fantasies, how can Julie believe her? Even more important, how could Julie have welcomed her sister back into her life even as Tom protested the intrusion, thereby furthering the gap between husband and wife? Yet today, as she boards a cable car and, when it is halted by crowds, accepts a ride from a previous patient, it seems that Tom's music choices are asking her if they can overcome their history and begin again. However, these questions pale in urgency later on when Julie must attempt to resolve a violent situation targeting her but also involving other people she cares for.

GOLDEN STATE is an exquisitely wrought piece of storytelling that is sure to linger in the mind long after the last page is read. On the surface, it appears to be riddled with drawbacks, yet these elements only seem to contribute to the book's considerable success. Julie's tale is told in a jagged nonlinear fashion, moving back and forth between present and past. Readers may find this method of storytelling, coupled with multiple subplots (so many subplots!), temporarily confusing. Yet, in the hands of talented author Michelle Richmond, we very soon find ourselves completely invested and onboard. Main character Julie Walker spends a good amount of time remembering the past and contemplating the intricacies of relationships…and yet the plot's impetus somehow never once bogs down. While many subplots (losing a child, divorce, difficult family relations, mental illness) are decidedly downbeat, Richmond leaves us with a surprising and hard-won feeling of hopefulness and renewal.

This is a many-layered page-turner that is emotionally resonant and satisfying, enriched by a playlist of songs composing a mental soundtrack that music lovers will embrace.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on February 7, 2014

Golden State
by Michelle Richmond

  • Publication Date: February 4, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0385343280
  • ISBN-13: 9780385343282