This smartly written debut novel looks to be one of the best of the year. Fresh and original, it’s exploration of human need and desire in the most dire of situations is good, thought provoking writing at its best. Frieda and Cal, a young couple, have left post-apocalyptic Los Angeles to eke out an existence in a remote piece of wilderness. It’s just the two of them now except for an occasional visit from August, a tradesman who brings them goods to barter for from time to time. Life is hard and uncertain. There is barely enough to eat, cleanliness is a luxury and fear is a constant presence. Survival is dependent not only on living off the land but in keeping a low profile. The loneliness and isolation are crushing and they mourn the world that once was. But they are alive, healthy and self- sufficient and that is the best it can be until Frieda becomes pregnant. Going back and forth, they agonize as to how they should handle this unforeseen event. Should they stay hidden or try and make it to an isolated settlement several days away? The journey is dangerous and the settlement is hostile to outsiders, so August has warned them. Finally feeling they have no choice, that they are unprepared to birth and take care of a newborn by themselves, they set out to find it. The twists and turns of their journey; who to trust and who to fear, asks us to consider the complexity of relationships. For that is really what this stunning tale is about, relationships of all kinds: between husbands and wives, siblings, haves and have not’s, leaders and followers, the environment, morality and greed.
There is a chilling plausibility to this not too distant futuristic story thankfully devoid of zombies, aliens or mutants. For the feasibility of a tattered world caused by both natural and man made disasters rings ominously possible given the state of our current newspaper headlines. California serves to make us pause and think about global connections at large as well as the intimate ones we hold dear. How much are we willing to compromise? What are we willing to do to survive? Offering up a multitude of issues to mull over, California is a terrific book worthy of thoughtful discussion. Frieda and Cal as well as other finely- crafted characters give a mortal, vulnerable voice to future generations to come, their legacy shaped by choices we make now. A sobering jolt of reality indeed.
California by Edan Lepucki is a win. He was once a bookseller at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood CA. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and visit this enchanting independent bookstore where you will see a stack of California proudly displayed.