I’ve been gushing since this blog’s beginnings how enjoyable I find Claire Vaye Watkins’ writing. I read Battleborn over the summer and was taken by her gorgeous and incisive prose. Needless to say, I found Gold Fame Citrus to be an excellent read. I wish it had been around in ’08 when I took my Literature and Environment class because this book would’ve fit right into that curriculum.
Gold Fame Citrus is a beautifully written tale about horrific circumstances and less than likeable characters. Luz Dunne, an ex-model, is living in an abandoned mansion with her boyfriend Ray, as they live in the wasteland that used to be California. What brought upon this wasteland? A horrific drought, something that sounds eerily like something you’d hear on the news today, has wiped out America’s land of plenty, leaving people to flee. Luz and Ray try to get out, but run into some difficulties, mostly involving bureaucracy and oh, picking up a baby and declaring her their own.
Said baby, Ig, was rightfully picked up by Luz and Ray as Watkins makes it pretty obvious that she’s being neglected and abused. For a character who doesn’t say much more than “what is?” and headbutts people, Ig was definitely my favorite. She brings out sides of Luz and Ray as they struggle to be parents, even if they technically kidnapped said child. Together, this family tries to make it across the Amargosa, a sand dune that’s overtaking what’s left of the American Southwest, only to be separated and wind up in the hands of the government (Ray) and a cult (Luz and Ig).
It turns out that Ray and Luz are not the best parents, as both neglect Ig in their own way. Luz veers from pitiable to eye roll-worthy from page to page. She’s not the best mother to Ig, something others in the cult are quick to notice about her. Ray is domineering and treats Luz like a child. But despite that, I remained fascinated by what would happen to these two as they struggled to survive on ration cola and the occasional sour blueberries.
I read an interview with Claire Vaye Watkins wherein she described that the sand dune, Amargosa, was originally envisioned as its own character of sorts. And the sand dune really is its own character!. Not in any way that resembles sentience, but its prevalence and impact on the characters in the story, most particularly the cult that Luz and Ig find themselves in. According to Luke, the leader, the sand dune gives and takes. Amargosa is indeed this cult’s god, with its own cast of “angels” as demonstrated by the fictional animal guide complete with illustrations containing an amazing assortment of mutant hybrids that Watkins must’ve had a great time cooking up!
I really enjoyed this book. It made me happy, angry, sad, depressed even at times. It was funny, caustic, heartbreaking, hopeful. Gold Fame Citrus is definitely one of the best works of literary fiction that published this year!
A couple random comments that didn’t really fit anywhere else:
I love the name Luz. And this is the second book I’ve read this year with a character with that name. ‘
Someone on Polyvore made a fashion ensemble to compliment Gold Fame Citrus…. which I really would not associate with this book at all, save for the parts where Luz raids the vacated closets of a starlet. Check out the ridiculousness here.