The Golden State, Lydia Kiesling, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2018, 290 pp
Let me start by saying that I adored this novel. I have spent more time thinking about how to review it than I did reading it. (It was compulsively easy to read.) During the days I spent thinking about what I wanted to say, I have gone out to lunch, picked up new glasses, had dinner and plenty of drinks at a music event and listened to the hour long interview with Lydia Kiesling on the Otherppl podcast. Meanwhile the library due date for the book has come and gone. Time, as they say, is up.
Daphne, the mother of 14-month-old Honey, her first child, has been juggling too much for too long. Her Turkish husband has been kept out of the United States by immigration bureaucratic fuckery for months. She has a full time job and a good daycare for Honey but money is tight, her somewhat cool job involves more bureaucracy, and she is lonely for her husband.
One Friday she has a mild meltdown. On the way to work, she turns around, goes back to their apartment, packs up basic necessities, picks up Honey from daycare and splits. Since this happens in San Francisco, CA, USA, Daphne has a car. She also has an inherited mobile home (the nice kind with a yard on a piece of property) in a small high desert town.
During her ten days there, she spends hour after hour with Honey, pretty much obsessing over her current life situation. Such is the writing skill of Lydia Kiesling that she turns these ten days of the minutia of toddler care, the odd encounters smart, liberal Daphne has with the Trump supporters in town, the obsessive pingponging of her mind, into a gripping narrative.
I have not spent hours at a time with small children for many years; over 40 years ago with my own, almost 20 years ago with my grandchildren. I have apparently not forgotten the strange brew of deep love for them and even deeper boredom as the hours pass. I always felt overcome by the love and guilty about the boredom. I have never felt more understood about all of that than I did while reading The Golden State.
Then, all of a sudden (though surely both Daphne and I should have seen it coming) this young woman involves herself so impetuously in an ill-advised situation that I feared for her and Honey for the last 90 pages. I mean real fear, heart-pounding, foreboding fear.
I got to know Lydia Kiesling's writing through a regular feature on The Millions, one of the first highly successful literary blogs. She wrote brilliant, interesting reviews about many of the 100 Modern Library novels. I was drawn to her voice, her perceptions, her style. In fact, she had the most influence on me as a reviewer out of the countless book reviewers I have read. She is now the editor of The Millions and The Golden State is her first novel. From the first page I recognized that voice.
If you are a mom, not the perfect kind but the kind who wants (or wanted) to be as perfect as possible without losing touch with the rest of your life, I recommend this novel. It is like therapy and the writing is as perfect as we all wanted to be.
If you are Lydia Kiesling and you read this review, I hope I did your novel justice without giving away too much but leaving all the other delights therein for other readers to discover on their own.
(The Golden State is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)