Favorite Books of the 2010s: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

This is a series of book reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.


Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (2015)

In the near future, drought has rendered the Southwestern United States nearly uninhabitable. A mountain-high sea dune called the Amargosa has spread over large portions of the Mojave Desert in southern California. Most people have evacuated, but some remain in Los Angeles, living off rationed soda and scavenging from abandoned homes of millionaires. Ray and Luz are two of them, but when they take a two-year-old girl, they realize they need to give her a better life. They set out on a treacherous crossing of the desert, where they encounter a cult-like group surviving at the edges of the great dune sea.

This was an odd and compelling book. Before Ray and Luz leave Los Angeles, the story seems a little slow, but once they set out, it changes radically. There is more than a touch of magical realism here, as the landscape in which they become stranded is so radically different from the America we know that it could be an alien planet. Here Watkins becomes experimental and playful with her prose, adding to its dreamlike quality. This bizarre landscape exerts an almost mystical hold over the people who fall into it and become trapped there, as if the dune sea itself is a conscious thing with its own needs and desires. This is the kind of book that the reader drifts through, not a page turner but strangely fascinating, and when it’s over, we’re unsure exactly what we’ve experienced. We only know that it has affected us.

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