My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Watkins’ sophomore novel explores the California landscape after a massive drought & focuses on Luz & Ray, a couple trying to survive the harsh conditions. Luz is a former model & literal poster child for the state’s past conservancy efforts. Ray is a mentally scarred soldier who abandoned his unit to find some sort of haven. They languish in the ruins of LA until they “rescue” a toddler, Ig, from other refugees. Paranoid as hell that they might get caught, the two take the child with them on a trek to find a better place to live. But the vast dune sea that has overtake the western United States & its unlikely inhabitants stand in their way.
The harsh beautiful prose that Watkins displayed in her first book Battleborn is still here. Her descriptions of the dune sea, the nearly abandoned town near a nuclear facility & the newly adapted life-forms will all resonate with new & returning readers. However, readers will have to work for those moments. While the novel gives Watkins plenty of room to explore her subject, I’m not sure that the length has helped her execution. The first two sections are one long setup for a quick denouement. Luz is another obstacle I had to overcome. I understand that she’s lived the life of a symbol for most of her life & is meant to have a bit of a beautiful void aspect about her. But she goes from one event to the next with a subdued effect which is at odds with how rapturously all other characters react to her. Even Ray, who says little & reveals nearly nothing, is somehow more interesting that Luz.
An ambitious novel that tries many approaches but lacks the characteristic edge of the author’s previous writing until the very end. Despite this, though, I’m still curious to see what future writing Watkins will produce.