California, Edan Lepucki, Little Brown & Company, 2014, 393 pp
I didn't keep any notes while reading this novel and I finished it many weeks ago. So I will just write about what still stands out in my mind.
1) Cal (short for California, the guy's college nickname) and his wife Frida. I don't think I know any people who are remotely similar to these characters. It could be an age thing. I think they are late 20s in the story and I kept feeling they were about the same age as the author would have been when she was writing the book, so she ought to know. I have nieces and nephews who are that age but they are not much like Cal or Frida.
2) Their marriage: OK so the setting is some 50 years in the future and this couple have escaped a decayed Los Angeles to live with practically nothing in the California wilderness, but they routinely keep secrets from each other. Big things and stupid little things, for good reasons like protection of the other and for perverse reasons.
I don't know if this is normal in marriages. It is normal in mine but for some reason it felt abnormal for two people who only have each other. Later when they become involved with a community that feels unmistakably like a cult, this compulsion to withhold information causes big trouble and leads them straight into the climax. So it was a great plot device.
3) The end of the story and a couple plot twists before that were for me complete surprises. I liked that. I just could not imagine how and where they would end up but any guesses I made or hoped for were wrong.
4) Lepucki's voice. For the half of the book it felt oddly brittle. She doesn't write like anyone I have been reading lately and I mean that in a good way. She is herself and by the end I was used to that voice, which has not a lot of humor nor is it compassionate. She is telling it the way she sees it.
5) Summary: In a dystopian setting peopled by a young married couple and various other desperate characters, the key tonality is desperation. I felt she took most of the things that are the most dysfunctional in our current world and made them just enough worse so that the rest of the story is believable.
This year I read On Such A Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood, and Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. California is the most like On Such A Full Sea in tone and environment. It was the least like Station Eleven. The ending is not happy but there is really nothing happy in the book although happiness is pursued. It is an engrossing addition to the current crop of post-apocalytic fiction.
(California is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)