I'm a writer because I have stage fright.
In the future, California has been decimated by extreme climate change. Parts of the United States are uninhabitable and resources are scarce. The government has slowly lost control, and people do whatever it takes to survive. Some cling to the old ways of life, trying to live in ransacked and looted cities, in denial of the dangers around them. Others, like Cal and Frieda, take their chances in the wilderness.
The text shifts back and forth from the two narrators’ perspectives. Cal seeks protection above all else, while Frieda wishes for human connection. Still, the two ponder old societal concerns such as gender roles, racism, religion, and abortion and how they are applicable or a hindrance to staying alive. As the two of them learn more about the world around them, the dangers of the environment begin to fade in comparison to the danger of other human beings.
While I admire Edan Lepucki (a graduate of the coveted Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and her ability to market her book (recommended by The Colbert Report and a bestseller), I did not enjoy California as much as I wanted to. I do not believe characters have to be likable, but I do believe they have to be interesting. Cal and Frieda were not interesting to me. They reminded me of the whining and complaining teenagers of an angst-ridden young adult novel. Along with how annoying they were, they seemed to constantly have sex. They were more like a pair of labrador retrievers than humans sometimes. I understand the author’s point that they had nothing else to do, but I also found this cynical. Even in despair, people can still find time to create something other than children.
California did, however, make some valid points about human nature and had some interesting minor characters. Micah in particular was complicated and thought-provoking. He is probably one of my favorite minor characters in literature to date. Lepucki uses a lack of information as a literary device to shroud this man in mystery, causing a satisfying amount of suspense.
Although California was not my cup of tea, I would still recommend it. Lepucki’s writing is respectable and her story well-crafted.