Written with a ferocious energy that’s equal to details both gritty (a lot of sand) and tender (love enduring no matter what), Claire Vaye Watkins’s first novel starts as history hits bottom. California is out of water. Its residents have evacuated—or should have. Nature is a hollow shell of itself and even the dogs are “straw colored.” The shimmering promise of Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead, $27.95) that lured so many to the West has turned out to be a mirage. Late to join the exodus, Luz and Ray, a former child model and an army deserter, are surviving on “ration cola” and anything else they can find, while passing their days playing dress-up in a movie star’s abandoned mansion. Then they find a child, and as “be careful” enters their vocabulary, they head out to greener Seattle. But the challenges are immense, ranging from no gas for the car to deadly heat to government detention camps, conspiracy theorists, and sudden burial by the walking dune of “the desert sea.” To chart this odyssey, Watkins revises both the classic road trip as well as the usual immigrant story—Luz and Ray are American citizens but can’t cross state lines without papers, which Ray’s past makes impossible to get. As the novel follows this lost-and-found family into the desert, Watkins unleashes a virtuoso sequence of linear narratives, official documents, a cult leader’s bestiary, a Greek chorus of voices, and some of the most stunning sentences in any genre.
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