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Gold Fame Citrus

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In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.

339 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2015

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About the author

Claire Vaye Watkins

16 books562 followers
Claire Vaye Watkins was born in Bishop, California in 1984. She was raised in the Mojave Desert, first in Tecopa, California and then across the state line in Pahrump, Nevada. A graduate of the University of Nevada Reno, Claire earned her MFA from the Ohio State University, where she was a Presidential Fellow. Her stories and essays have appeared in Granta, One Story, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Best of the West 2011, New Stories from the Southwest 2013, the New York Times and elsewhere. Claire has received fellowships from the Writers’ Conferences at Sewanee and Bread Loaf.

Her collection of short stories, Battleborn (Riverhead Books), won the Story Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Silver Pen Award from the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. A finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, Battleborn was named a best book of 2012 by the San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Time Out New York, Flavorwire, and NPR.org. In 2012, Claire was selected as one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35.”

Currently a visiting assistant professor at Princeton University, Claire is also the co-director, with Derek Palacio, of the Mojave School, a free creative writing workshop for teenagers in rural Nevada.

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5 stars
1,246 (13%)
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542 (6%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,484 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
October 3, 2015

This might sound odd , but this is a beautifully written novel about an ugly scenario. I was taken from the beginning by the exceptional writing. The descriptions made me thirsty and my skin felt dry and I could feel the gritty sand. I was taken from the beginning with Luz , who was a model before the devastation and the ambassador of sorts as a child for the conservation movement, and Ray , an AWOL soldier, and then with little Ig when she finds them .

The eeriness is present from the beginning and especially in the descriptions of the devastatingly, drought ridden land without water leaving so much sand , only a sea of sand and dune in California and the southwest. It's more than an eerie feeling - really scary actually. You can't help but think omg - will it come to this?

While we never know exactly when this takes place or how it came to be, it feels as though the time is in the not too distant future. Certainly there's a warning here and a message and the clear , descriptive and beautiful writing about the condition of the land and these characters gives one pause .

The eeriness is more than just the lack of water and the dust , there are some strange people that Luz needs to save Ig from , there's a cult , a madman actually. Things are pretty creepy in this ominous vision of what might happen. All of this makes it very difficult to read at times as I pictured this imagined view . I couldn't help but think that as strange as the events were that maybe it could happen. I would say this is not the type of book I usually read but yet it was worth reading this haunting story .

Thanks to Riverhead Books and NetGalley.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
July 10, 2016
"Nature had refused to offer herself to them. The water, the green, the mammalian, the tropical,
the semitropical, the leafy, the verdant, the motherloving citrus, all of it was denied them
and had been denied them so long that with each day, each project, it became more and more
impossible to conceive of a time when it had not been denied them. The prospect of
Mother Nature opening her legs and inviting Los Angeles back into her ripeness was, like the
disks of water shimmering in the last foothill reservoirs patrolled by the National Guard,
evaporating daily."

Claire Vaye Watkins writing is luscious and hypnotic. ( as you might agree from the above quote), There are many gorgeous sentences to relish, appreciate, and savor....yet the
story -- overall- is not as strong as the prose itself.

Having read "California", by Edan Lepucki, "Station Eleven", by Emily St. John Mandel,
and "Water Knife", by Paolo Bacigalupi ....
I figure I was well prepared for another near future dystopian novel.

Like in 'Water Knife', water is gravely insufficient. ( yet, I felt "Water Knife" had a stronger 'plot'.... often too grim and graphic.. but so powerful & scary - I've never fully shaken off the
reality of the water wars presented.

Like in "California", the story begins in Los Angeles...with a couples story ( Luz and Ray), at
the heart of this book.

Like in "Station Eleven", we read about a very creative dystopian world with
elaborate descriptions. (Both books are well written with vivid images).

"Gold Fame Citrus" just might have the 'slight' edge over "Station Eleven" when it comes to lyrical lushness prose. (But I liked "Station Eleven" best of all these books).... Just a personal

Some sentences felt like poetry...( credit Watkins!!)
"Each 'yes' a glowing thunderstorm, cool jewels in the deep pit of the earth radiated with positive energy, and though Luz, knew each was empty she stuffed their hollow with straw
and positivity and stacked these, and with 'yes' she kept the bombs at bay."

I can't help but wonder if Watkins timing is 'off'...( or maybe it's me). This story calls to be 'compared' with the other novels I've mentioned. It was a little hard - for me - not to compare.

Overall, Beautiful writing, but at times I lost my 'heart-spark'... (I found Luz & the baby a little
annoying), and what's 'really' annoying is this makes two books in a row where
characters in novels got on my nerves. If this keeps happening... I might need to enter reading- re-hab.

3.5 I liked the writing - and gorgeous sentences more the the plot.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,804 reviews2,342 followers
February 15, 2016
Yikes! I really didn't like this book, which is a shame as unlike many of the reviewers here, I paid for it. In hardback. Damn! I feel like such a sucker.

The plot is basically this - a vapid couple roams the barren wasteland that used to be southern California. Then a child changes everything (as all parents learn) and sets them on the run for a better, safer life elsewhere. Sounds intriguing, right? I plunked down my monies based on that description. But despite the life and death struggles, I found their story sadly uncompelling. The biggest hindrance to my enjoyment? The main character - Luz - a piece of fluff who drifts any way the wind blows. She is wholly uninteresting and wholly dependent upon her man for survival. (Ray even calls her "Babygirl," for crying out loud!) Then there's the big turning point and , and you think YES! - she's finally going to grow a spine . . . but, NO!

The whole thing just seemed POINTLESS.

Anyway, thanks for listening to my rant. Everyone in the world liked this one more than I did, so I'll be donating my expensive copy to the library. Hopefully my loss will be someone else's gain. Sheesh - hardback! What on earth was I thinking?
Profile Image for Cat.
830 reviews143 followers
October 18, 2015
Okay, so I have to admit that I really didn't like this book. I wanted to like it, and I liked tiny bits of it (its phantasmagorical menagerie of desert beasts in the middle, its Nabokovian catalog of fake reality shows, its chapter about the mole man who stirs creamer into his coffee with his claws). I also liked its deep recognition that parenting represents staking a claim in the future, struggling with the necessities of the present (diapers! binkies! milk!), and dreading the revelation of all the things in the world that you can't protect that child from (death, environmental degradation). That was powerful for me, but often, I felt like this novel represented the literary ambitions of an MFA student thrown into a blender (SIDENOTE: I realize that Watkins is a Guggenheim fellow and not an apprentice, but I feel like this pastiche-y, ironic sensibility and trying on of a dozen modes and forms is characteristic of a marketplace pressure for "serious literature") without having a kind of formal or thematic coherence that could rise and swell like, say, the wandering dune at the center of this novel. Maybe Watkins would say that that narrative disappointment is crucial for the novel's critique of grand narratives, whether they be governmental denial or religious cult fabrication. And maybe that's true, but it felt like someone working really, really hard to write a serious novel. The best bits were really striking aesthetic fragments. I worried that some of the stilted bits felt like you could pluck them out of this novel and plunk them into the New Yorker. Also, I'm frustrated at the central characterization of a Latina woman, which reminded me of The Flamethrowers, in a woman writer depicting a character hopelessly entangled in a toxic cult-worship of male sexual partners, but here feels like a recapitulation of passive femininity familiar from other "serious" apocalyptic novels (see: The Road). This is particularly problematic when a white man becomes the admirable, heroic character. Even though Watkins winks at this status when he jokes that white men have typically done well on the frontier, I worry that this is less a critique of gender and racial structures and the psychological damage they do and more a narrative endorsement of active men and passive women.

I wouldn't say don't read it because there are some bits that are really powerful, and you might like the postmodern narrative style more than I do. But I will say that I didn't (for the most part) enjoy it.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
September 25, 2015
The American Southwest has completely run out of water. The new ocean covering vast areas is now made of sand, mountains are sandstone, and Californians who once came for fame, gold or citrus are now called Mohaves. Many moving Eastward are taken to relocation camps, but not all leave. Luz, once known as baby Dunn, a poster child form failed conservation movement is one. She meets Ray and for a while they live in an abandoned stars mansion, until they misappropriate a child and want a better chance at life.

I finished this a while ago and am still shaking my head. What have I just read? Wildly imaginative or prescient, original and devastating. A cult like leader who is a dowser and his followers in the desert, a haven or a threat? What a brilliant concept this book is, even to the point where Watkins manages to come up with new supposed insects and animals that are living in this new sand ocean, adapting and changing to thrive in their new environment. But are they real? There is so much to this book, descriptions and feelings, almost a hallucinogenic mind game with characters who change and evolve Prose that is brilliant or sometimes seems overwritten but to great effect. So incredibly addictive and immersive.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
February 9, 2017
They say the past always repeats itself and this was like a hallucinogenic history of California (hence the title) reorganised to take place in a dystopian future when climate change has done its worst and it’s stopped raining in California. Most of its inhabitants have been evacuated east. Luz and Ray, like many other social misfits, have stayed on. Luz is a damaged former child star; her partner Ray is an equally damaged war veteran on the run from the authorities. Luz reads biographies of the west’s founding fathers and experiments with the wardrobe of the film star former owner of the house where they are shacked up; Ray gets on with the practical stuff. One night, at an outdoor party, they encounter a small child. When they see the child seems to be the property of a gang of crackheads and is being subjected to abuse they decide to kidnap her. Fearful the gang will come after them they decide to make for a vast sand dune sea where it’s rumoured there is a cult with a prophet who successfully dowses for water.

I read today that the author’s father was a member of the Charles Manson family and Levi the cult leader here is very much a Manson figure – a far more convincing and sinisterly enigmatic character than Emma Cline came up with in her novel.

Gold Fame Citrus probably has as many flaws as it does qualities but the qualities are so fresh and bold that it’s well worth reading. At times the narrative is genuinely nail-biting; at other times it becomes wilfully digressive and overwritten and a bit pretentious. It’s in the nature of young writers to be ambitious and Watkins experiments with various voices in a not entirely successful attempt to create a bigger picture. There’s a documentary voice, a choral voice and a cataloguing of faux fauna of the desert sea and while there’s some humour in these digressions Watkins chooses to freeze the dramatic tension to fit them in. Personally I wished she had stayed with the central narrative voice. What ultimately holds it together are the insightfully developed and compelling central characters. There are some great insights into motherhood and sexual relationships. This is definitely the most whacky novel I’ve read this year though at heart it’s actually a very straightforward love story. No question the author had an awful lot of fun writing this. It felt very personal, very intimate. Luz and Ray are memorable characters and the novel boasts some fabulous storytelling amidst all the bigger picture sideshows.
Profile Image for Figgy.
678 reviews219 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
March 23, 2016
I just can't at the moment.

Every line needs to be interpreted, and I've just now struggled through 16 pages that read like they're out of some overly pretentious, blind person's... Encyclopaedia...

And people have said that this is where it SLOWS DOWN? It gets SLOWER than this?

I can't even.

I may come back to it, but now it's a DNF.
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews909 followers
February 8, 2016
Ominous, foreboding book about a not-so-distant future where the west has become a drought-blasted wasteland of glittering, shifting sand dunes that swallow everything in their path. Most of Arizona, California and Nevada have been evacuated north and east, but pockets of people remain, eking out an existence and subsisting on rationed cola, crackers and black-market produce. Ray and Luz are squatters in a starlet's abandoned Los Angeles mansion. They attend a "raindance" one night (think a rave) and encounter a pack of drug-addled young people with a toddler. Luz becomes agitated about the welfare of the toddler, and when one of the young people leaves the toddler in Luz and Ray's temporary care while the group wanders off, Luz impulsively urges Ray to leave with the child, Ig. They kidnap Ig and decide to head east in the starlet's Kharmann Ghia through the forbidding Amargosa dune sea to settle in South Carolina. The journey and what happens to Luz, Ray and Ig is one I will be thinking about for some time.

Watkins' writing is gorgeous and the story beautifully crafted - this is not your normal dystopian novel. Very original and well-imagined - the world she creates is one that will make you uneasy because it is so, so close to being realized.

An interesting side-note.....the author's father is Paul Watkins, a member of the Manson family who ended up being a witness for the prosecution. A significant section of this book deals with a cult and their charismatic leader. Fascinating to think about what the author may have drawn from her own family history.....or maybe nothing at all, other than a concept.
Profile Image for Nadine in NY Jones.
2,751 reviews217 followers
March 5, 2017
This was a really distasteful book.

Everyone in this book is damaged. But they are not strong and damaged, they are not healing from damage, they are not fighting their ways back into life. They are destructive, seeking to damage more. They damage themselves, they damage each other.

There is nothing meaningful here, nothing uplifting, nothing to learn. it goes nowhere. It's just grimy.

Maybe I'm just not smart enough to get it.

And the writing? The writing is quite good, I guess, except the author seemed hellbent on making the book as gritty and grimy and crass as possible in a l-o-n-g, s-l-o-w, s-l-o-g. I just don't like this kind of writing. I didn't need to read about young Luz sticking strips of cloth inside her labia on the event of her first menses. I didn't need to read about Luz diddling herself after intercourse with Ray. I didn't need to read about how Luz smelled like another man. I didn't particularly want to read ANY of it. I didn't want to read about how Ig's face looked like a skinned fruit when she cried. I confess, in some parts my eyes just skimmed the page, because my brain had HAD it with the grime. The endless grime.

So, that's how I feel about the story and the writing. How about the characters? I hated every one of the characters. Hated them. Hated spending time with each one of them. I resented each extra word used to describe each one of them. Luz is the heart of the book, and Luz is the one I disliked the most. She goes through life in a haze, she almost practices her incompetence. It's pathetic. She is like a mirror, she is no one unless a man is there to be reflected in her light. She changes with each man, clings to each like a limpet, idiotically accepts all that he tells her as gospel. Some of the men she meets are good men, some are bad men, some are men just getting through life, but she clings to each of them, and I hated every syllable of every word.

So far as the dystopian world-building goes, I didn't really buy it. A gigantic glacier-like sand dune, dubbed the Amargosa, is a central figure in this book; it is massive, engulfing all the southwest, moving inexorably forward, tall enough to engulf the Sierra Nevadas ... The Amargosa is described A LOT. And I just kept wondering: where is that all coming from? We're meant to believe that all the sand comes from dried up lake beds, but that just didn't feel right to me. Is there a giant CHASM in Mexico that was emptied out in order to provide enough gravel and sad to engulf the Sierra Nevadas? It really bugged me.

I love dystopians in general: zombie dystopians, oppressive-government dystopians, environmental dystopians, aliens-have-landed dystopians, planets-out-of-orbit dystopians ... I love the genre. This is the third "literary" dystopian I've read. California and Station Eleven were the other two. Station Eleven was fantastic, I loved everything about it, but I did not care for the dismal world of California. Amazingly to me, Gold Fame Citrus is even MORE dismal.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
November 7, 2015
I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
Ciaran Carson, "Fear" 1948

In Claire Vaye Watkins's searing debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, fear is vast. It is blistering hot, white, shifting, a thing massive and predatory, greedy and indiscriminate. It is the desert, one we have created by draining the West of its water, by changing the climate, forcing Nature to turn her back, jealously guarding her Rain. Fear has a name. It is the Amargosa Dune Sea.

Set in a future close enough to see if we shade our eyes and squint, Gold Fame Citrus presents a California annihilated by drought. A massive, moving sand dune is eating up mountain ranges, obliterating cities, and creating refugees known as Mojavs, a dystopian society that recalls the Okies of the Depression-era Dust Bowl. Watkins lists Tim Egan's phenomenal The Worst Hard Time in her acknowledgments and parallels the desperation and isolation of that time with one of her own keen and savage imagination.

Luz Dunn was a child star, born into drought just as science began to give up on cure or prevention and a desiccated society turned toward the mystic and the weird. Luz was to be the hope disaster couldn't defeat. The government made her a poster child for the new future, until the posters faded and shriveled in the relentless sun. Now Luz squats in the abandoned home of a movie star in a "laurelless" canyon, drinking ration cola while her boyfriend Ray writes lists in his diary that read like poetry and tries to keep them alive. They can't seem to muster the energy to flee to the cool, green, moist Pacific Northwest, or join the multitudes heading over the Dune, toward cities in the East. It's not that easy: even if you survive the desert crossing, Mojavs aren't welcome anywhere, states are building barriers to wall themselves in. And then there is Ray's past—a barbed-wire fence too tall and entangled to surmount.

They aren't alone in the desert: there are others, outcasts who've come together in survivalist colonies, living blackmarket lives. Luz and Ray rescue a little girl, a “strange, coin-eyed, translucent-skinned child”, from one such group, in a scene of an overnight rave party that is grotesque and haunting, like a Cormac McCarthy nightmare of the Old West.

The theft of this child, Ig, and fear that they will be pursued, propels Luz and Ray out of their sun-scorched inertia and sets them on the road, seeking a way out of the desert. But of course, the Desert will not let them go that easily. Luz and Ig end up alone, dying of thirst and heatstroke. Watkins's vision of mercy is also a prison, with convicted survivors sharpening blades of power on a whetstones of control.

This is a novel of passion and fierce love; it is cruel and brilliant, shocking and tender, created with an imagination as boundless as the desert. In contrast to the parched environment, Watkins's prose is lush and vivid, leading you, bewitched, through a shimmering mirage of hope.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,691 reviews452 followers
January 6, 2016
Gold, fame, and citrus were the enticements that drew people across the country to California. But the state of California in this dystopian novel is experiencing extreme drought and high winds, resulting in a reverse of the migration in "The Grapes of Wrath". Some states have closed their borders, and the last of the evacuation buses have left for the east. The few holdouts in the parched area survive on "ration cola", black market provisions, and goods looted from abandoned houses.

Luz and Ray have holed up in a starlet's former home in Los Angeles. They assume a parental role toward Ig, a neglected, possibly abused two-year-old who was spending time with a group of junkies. To find a better life for Ig they head eastward, crossing the desert with meager rations of gasoline and water. They find a sea of sand covering the Southwest, moving like a glacier and swallowing town after town. A desert cult, led by a charismatic dowser who finds water and food in questionable ways, may be their only hope for survival.

Watkins' writing is beautiful. Her descriptions are sensual and earthy, and sometimes hallucinogenic. The author has taken California's real problems of water shortage, diminished aquifers, wildfires, and corporate greed, and envisioned a near future with exacerbated problems. The people left behind seems real--survivalists banded together in communes, gangs, and cults. The scary thing about Watkins' vision is knowing that there is a possibility of at least some of it actually becoming a reality.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,035 reviews48.5k followers
September 29, 2015
There’s no denying that the climate of literary fiction has changed to reflect the new environmental reality. Some of the finest writers — T.C. Boyle, Barbara Kingsolver, Lydia Millet and others — have dramatized our era’s challenge in stories that are both global and intimate. Now add to their work Claire Vaye Watkins’s searing debut novel about the barren world that awaits us.

“Gold Fame Citrus” opens in Los Angeles at a moment not too far off when the Southwest is bone dry. In this “ruined heaven, this laurelless canyon,” Luz Dunn is living in a starlet’s abandoned mansion with her partner, Ray. Government has evaporated, and society has been distilled down to. . . .

You can read the rest of this review at The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Nora Grenfell.
11 reviews9 followers
August 28, 2015
Gold Fame Citrus had every hallmark of my kind of book -- social commentary on climate change, a flawed female protagonist, experimental narrative style -- but I was never able to get into it. I've never needed a linear plot, but the jumping around from group of characters to found documents, from third person to first person plural narrator, it all ended up removing me from the novel. It felt at times too broad in its scope and at times too narrow. The descriptive prose was stunning, but it didn't feel grounded in plot or character. It reminded me of 'California,' last year's post-environmental apocalypse novel about a young couple who face becoming parents and end up joining a cult. Like 'California,' it had a lot of promise, but for me it never delivered on that promise.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,612 reviews2,581 followers
December 31, 2015
(Nearly 4.5) Gold, fame, citrus: reasons people once came to California. Now, only a desperate remnant remains in this waterless wasteland. Luz and Ray squat in a starlet’s abandoned mansion and live off of Luz’s modeling money – she was once the environmental movement’s poster child, “Baby Dunn.” When they take charge of a baby called Ig, however, their priorities change. They set off for the strangely beautiful sea of dunes, the Amargosa, leaving behind the ‘frying pan’ of exposure to the elements for the ‘fire’ of a desert cult.

There is some absolutely beautiful prose in this novel, only overblown in a handful of places, and Watkins experiments with a few different formats including a fantastical bestiary and what look like lines from a play. With an abandoned mall and a theater as notable settings, this reminded me of Station Eleven. All told, this is the book that California (by Edan Lepucki) wanted to be. It’s a smart, believable dystopian with a family at its heart. I didn’t think Watkins followed the environmental message through to its fullest possible extent, but I still think this compares favorably with books like The Road and the Maddaddam trilogy.

Fun fact: I’m pretty sure the nuclear waste monument in the desert bears lines borrowed/adapted from Jonathan Miles’s novel Want Not!

A few favorite passages:

Everything here was ash. Chalkdust and filament. Everything here could be obliterated with a wave of her hand.

She and Ig and John Muir were slate blue and sea green. They were a tuft of moss in Yosemite before Yosemite was a dry, ruined chasm ringed by hot granite knobs. They were a spray of fungi leaning out over Crater Lake before it went entirely crater. They were lichen on stone, dormant beneath the snowpack of a hangnail glacier in a crook of the Cascades that no one knew the name of.

we fill our homes with macabre altars to the live things we’ve murdered—the floral print of the twin mattress in her childhood bedroom, stripped of its sheets when she soiled them; ferns on throw pillows coated in formaldehyde; poppies on petrochemical dinner plates; boxes and bags of bulk pulpstuffs emblazoned with plant imagery the way milk cartons are emblazoned with children. A rock on a window ledge, cut flowers stabbed in a vase, wreath of sprigs nailed to the front door—every house a mausoleum, every house a wax museum.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,645 followers
June 24, 2015
In a haunting vision of the near future, inexorable draught and desert sands have laid waste to the mystical southwestern desert and the once shining beacon of California that at one time held a promise of gold, fame and citrus to dreamers. Those who are still alive there survive on cola rations and black market fruit.

Ensconced in this dismal setting are two rays of light: Luz (the Spanish translation of light. “Luz was light, she was light-headed, light within light…”) and Ray (think: sun ray). As a deserter and a quitter, his life has been “an archipelago of ambiguity and abstraction and impossibility”; as the former poster child for the Bureau of Conservation, she is defined by her thirsty needs. And then one day, they discover a strange fragile young toddler named Ig. They abduct her to save her and so the real story begins.

Claire Vaye Watkins astounded me with her short story collection Battleborn, surely one of the best contemporary collections of the past five years. So even though I am not a fan of dystopian literature (the only two I’ve liked have been Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Dog Stars by Peter Heller), I just had to see how far her talent had taken her.

The book is a wonder and testimony to a fertile imagination. It’s about how we lay waste to our greatest gifts: our land, our dreams, our abilities to love and nurture. It’s about how we’ve become parched for the anything authentic, seeking false saviors and believing in fake visions as we strive to satiate ourselves. It’s about the mystical lure of cults and drugs and visions and lies…anything that leads us away from ourselves. And it’s about an unknowable child, a child who may just be the catalyst to help those to whom she’s entrusted know themselves.

In ways, it’s also about how barren and bereft and lifeless our lives become – both interior and exterior – when we lose sight of what we truly thirst for. Claire Vaye Watkins touches on many issues: apocalyptic weather phenomenon, government conspiracies, cult idoltry, forced evacuations, crowd acquiescence, and loss and forgiveness. Yet Ms. Watkins never ignores her characters; Luz, Ray and Ig come across as all too real. I can’t even imagine where this talented young writer is headed next.

Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews127k followers
August 11, 2016
I fell so hard in love with this book that I was almost afraid to finish it or approach it again after the first couple of chapters. It’s a gorgeously-woven story about awful things: a drought, an evacuation, a cult, a kidnapping, drug addiction, fame. Reading Watkins’s language was like slipping out of silk pajamas and into the most perfect bubble bath you’ve ever experienced. So luxurious.

— Susie Rodarme

from The Best Books We Read In July 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/08/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Viv JM.
692 reviews153 followers
August 10, 2016
3.5 stars

Gold Fame Citrus is an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre. It is set in a near-future parched Californian landscape. The author does a great job of evoking the heat and dryness of the setting, and the characters are both flawed and interesting. I enjoyed the first third and the last third of the book, but felt that it floundered a bit in the middle. Sometimes the writing came across to me as not so much creative and literary as a bit pretentious. Having said that, I do think this book is worth reading and, given that it is a first novel, I would be interested in reading more from this author in the future.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
457 reviews943 followers
February 6, 2016
I'm giving this a solid four, although while reading it I was three-ish. In many places it was superb - the beautiful, poetic language; the originality of the premise and plot (hard to do in post-apocalyptica, and I didn't really get there until well into the second hundred pages); the interludes in which Watkins interjected new, self-contained pieces of writing - I don't know what you call that - the expositional beginning of part II; Levi's primer; the scene in the buried swimming pool; Luz's root trip (holy crap, what an amazing piece of writing that is).

There was a ton of creative energy in this. And then, there is the author's own back story, which can't help but inform the reading making it even more fascinating. (I liked knowing that in advance, btw; altho' not everyone would).

When this book took flight, it really soared.

The problem for me is that it was a turbulent ride. It felt inconsistent - too inconsistent to me. It felt a little kitchen-sinky. It felt a little over-ambitious - not typically something that discourages me, when reading; I really like authorial audacity. But it was enough to cause me to look out the window and worriedly wonder if the wings were gonna hold. It made me trust Watkins a little less than I needed to. This is a wild ride, and you need to trust.

This is a tree-falls-in-the-forest question, but I wonder, , if that would have restored a sense of continuity, and my ability to trust where Watkins was taking me? Whether I would have had less of a rev-up, stop, stall, rev-up again feeling of plot progression that was, at some level, my primary challenge in the overall reading experience of this.

I admire that structure a lot. I think it actually works fantastically well with the plot and premise - it almost mimics the unpredictable encroachment of the sand. But I didn't enjoy it at an experiential level while reading, that's the thing.

Also, loosey-goosey character back stories. I felt like the moral of the story was always there, but under-explored. Strangely, I feel like I wanted her to be a little more heavy-handed with some of the themes, and with some of the characterizations. (Had she been so, I would have hated it no doubt. Be careful what you wish for, reader). Without this, though, the whole thing skirted a little too closely to nihilism for my own readerly comfort.

So, those things were enough to unsettle me. But again, when this book is brilliant - which it regularly is - it is stupendously brilliant. The ending - wow. Another beautiful piece of writing; gorgeously surreal.

I'ma stop writing or I'll talk myself up to a five.


Here are two great reviews:

The Death of the California Dream, Lauren O'Neal, Slate

Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins, Emily St. John Mandel, The New York Times

Profile Image for Imi.
378 reviews110 followers
January 22, 2016
I don't think I would have finished this if I hadn't been given a review copy, and if I'm being completely honest, I pretty much skim read most of it after the half way point. The premise sounded fascinating, set in a post-apocalyptic near future America, hit by droughts and climate change. I was completely taken in by the synopsis, and so was hoping for something similar to Margaret Atwood's speculative science fiction series, MaddAddam.

Sadly, this did absolutely nothing for me. Watkins must have been trying to create something edgy and unique, but in my opinion it all came together as a tedious, repetitive mess. The narrative structure and writing style was choppy and confusing, jumping between the main storyline and extracts from random documents, checklists and articles, which would have really taken me out of the story, if there had been much of one. The repetitive checklists (lists of random words going on for pages), in particular had seemingly no purpose other than adding to the overall word count. (On a side note, one of the documents, which included drawings, was really terribly formatted, meaning I had to skim many pages on my kindle to read less than a line of text. Hopefully, that will have been fixed in the final retail ebook edition though).

None of the characters, dialogue or circumstances seemed believable, and most of the "science" seemed completely bizarre, verging on fantasy. I didn't find anything about any of the characters, Luz, Ray, Ig or any members of the wacky cult, striking or interesting. I was especially disappointed by the characterisation of Luz, the protagonist. .

Maybe there was some interesting ideas buried away here, but this novel was too trying on my patience for me to pay much notice.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
830 reviews767 followers
June 18, 2015
At the start of this superb novel, it is clear that water depletion in the Southwest United States has been ongoing for at least a generation, although now it is dire, and the danger is not just the waterless environment anymore. Borders are controlled, and the government restricts the Central Valley citizens (called Mojavs) by corralling them in internment camps. Factions, cults, and fugitives splinter off from the mainstream huddles and try to find meaning in a menacing, starving world. The thirst for love, spiritual meaning, and redemption, and the evolution of family, is at the core of this stunning post-apocalyptic story. How to be human when humanity is threatened with obsolescence?

Luz Dunn, an ex-model from this region (California), was once exploited as the poster child for conservation--"Baby Dunn"--used as a propaganda tool by the government to manage the masses (with sentimentality) and attempt to prevent the inevitable insurgency caused by the escalating drought crisis. Luz, whose heroes are naturalists such as John Muir and Sacajawea, repudiates the camps and sets off on her own, meeting and forging a relationship with Ray, originally from Indiana, and a veteran of the "Forever War." They squat at a mansion once owned by a vacated starlet; rations are scarce, but they have a wardrobe of wonders and a hatbox full of money. And each other.

Their journey really begins when, one night at a raindance, they liberate an odd, lupine toddler from her neglectful, libertine guardians and abscond with her back to the mansion. They name her Ig, and vow to be a committed family together. Because of what they've done, they are motivated and paranoid enough to leave for greener pastures. They warily seek advice from an old comrade, who suggests that they head for the great swath of sand called the Amargosa, between the Central Valley and Vegas. There's alleged to be a town of outcasts run by a prophet. And, more importantly, there's supposed to be water.

Watkins creates a spectacular landscape through intertextual and mystical language--spiritual and metaphysical, stark and surreal. She constructs an original, strange but strangely familiar universe using recognizable images that are altered or fused, such as a "sandalanche." All is parched, colorless, rust, smoke, dirt, decay, bones, and sand. And the relentless sun. In this barren, dying terrain, Watkins describes a "Dune Sea"--a mammoth wall of sand that inspires comparisons to the ocean, and which also behaves like a vastly accelerating glacier. This superdune, which has buried cities, both obstructs movement and passage and lures transients with an occult-like force.

"It has been called the devil incarnate, but also the wide, open eye of God."

As the three set out on their odyssey, they are tested morally, physically, spiritually, and romantically. I believe that all great literature is connected in various ways, and some have even a higher frequency of magnetism, like this one. Watkins pays homage to Brave New World, Stranger in a Strange Land, Gods Without Men, The Roadand the 2014 Station Eleven and The Bone Clocks, among other powerful books. There are even parallels to The Stand. She tips her hat to the best of dystopian literature, but she's an innovative, gifted and fertile writer, not a mimic.

The characters in this book are seekers, fatigued and traumatized, but hoping for the sublime nuance to counteract their cynicism. They are looking for something to believe in, a new supernatural awe that promises hope, beauty, transcendence. Watkins also provides subversive wit, and her characters are ample and generous. She doesn't dumb down or wax superior. It's tough to find dystopian literature that isn't derivative or condescending, but Watkins achieves this by trusting readers, not manipulating them. The narrative is inventive and darkly enchanting.

Watkins' use of paradox and extended metaphor is so brilliant and visionary that I could feast on this novel for the polychromatic prose alone. However, the story is also strong and solid, driven largely by theme and character, but on a wily, linguistic trampoline. The plot winds its way gradually to its powerful apex.

Luz still resonates, even after the last page. She's part earthy, part flighty, damaged, determined. Aspects of her are transparent, but you can't reduce her to knowable. There's as much to learn about her in how she responds to the people around her as in listening to her thoughts. She's a conundrum, one of those brilliantly conceived characters that will create debate. She's unforgettable.

"California people are quitters. No offense. It's just you've got restlessness in your blood."...
"Your people came here looking for something better. Gold, fame, citrus. Mirage. They were feckless, yeah? Schemers. That's why no one wants them now. Mojavs."
Profile Image for Jen Campbell.
Author 34 books12k followers
December 30, 2015
A DNF for me, unfortunately. Didn't gel with it at all.
Profile Image for Matt.
374 reviews18 followers
September 23, 2015
The only place to start talking about Gold Fame Citrus is the writing. Claire Vaye Watkins is a force of nature...or something altogether outside of nature. She wields words like Yoda wields The Force. Her writing is fire: it illuminates, it warms, it mesmerizes and it burns. Sometimes it seems like she's twirling it around on the ends of a pole just to show off.

Gold Fame Citrus is dazzling. It's harrowing in it's all-too-plausible nightmare scenario. It's so, so evocative and sensual...I could feel the heat and the grime and the thirst. It could feel the presence of the Amargosa Dune Sea. Some moments simply took my breath away.

All that said, my key takeaway upon finishing Gold Fame Citrus was essentially this: Claire Vaye Watkins has a Great (capital "G") novel in her. This isn't it. I was frequently taken out of the story, momentarily separated with some of her pop-a-wheelie descriptive digressions. I wonder how much of these moments were Watkins enthralled with her super powers, in such a magical groove, just having to keep up the fretwork and filigree, just having to see where it would go. It was dazzling, but it took me out of the story in a way that serviced neither the characters nor the story.

This may be unfair. With the talent and power on display, she is in many ways setting her own curve. This is a terrific, in many ways amazing, book. I can't help but think she's got more, that when she crafts her characters and plot with as much care and precision and insight and spark as she does her geographies, that we'll have something that melts the face with literary G-force.

A powerful, evocative and incisive allegorical work, Gold Fame Citrus is a klaxon. I can't wait to see what Claire Vaye Watkins does next.
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,206 reviews188 followers
November 4, 2015
Even after several days of reflection, I don't know what I think about this book. And that really burns my brisket because I expected to unequivocally love it. I had all but papered my bathroom walls with that gorgeous cover art. Claire Vaye Watkins is one of those golden young writers who seems to be universally adored. How could I not love her debut novel, set in a futuristic, drought-blighted California? Literary dystopian fiction has been an easy sell for me ever since I made the acquaintance of Fahrenheit 451 and promptly forced all my then-students to read and discuss it.

Part of my problem is I'm not entirely sure what Watkins was trying to do with this novel. There were too many inscrutable passages where the language took a turn for the poetic and lost meaning for me. If that makes me an unsophisticated reader, well, so be it. I don't need an author to slow-walk me through the revelations they want me to have, but I'm learning that I don't have much patience for surreal descriptions of drug trips. I don't care in the slightest what colors you see behind your eyes while you're on some illicit substance. Books that rely heavily on these types of scenes just don't work for me. What can I say? I'm a huge square.

There's a love story, kind of, and if I'm being honest, that's probably what kept me engaged when the prose got too thistly for me. But that angle was oddly soapy and melodramatic next to all the deep, philosophical musings about life and death.

So why am I bothering to write about Gold Fame Citrus, when I don't write negative reviews and I obviously didn't feel all that positive about it? I guess it's because there's plenty to puzzle over, and I can't resist a book that gives me something to chew on, even if it's mostly gristle. The bone dry desert environs are vividly drawn. Main character Luz is a shifting, shimmering mirage on the sandy landscape. Just when I thought I knew her, could predict her next move, she surprised me. I wanted to know what would happen to her and Ig, the strange little girl she kind of adopted, kind of stole. I just wish I'd been able to find out without wading through all the drug-addled nonsense.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Brittany (UnderTheRadarBooks).
290 reviews18 followers
December 30, 2015
3 stars

I had very high hopes for this book. I had heard great things about it and the concept was so promising but it did not even come close to delivering.

In the beginning, I was excited. It reminded me of Station Eleven in that the world was dystopian but the focus was on the people instead of the disaster itself. I soon learned it was nothing like Station Eleven and that is when the downhill slope began.

This story follows a couple trying to survive in a severe drought that is affecting the southwestern United States. They come across a young child and decide to take her as their own. Then the book takes a turn for the worse and a male dominated, creepy, sexual cult is introduced and that is where you lost me.

I appreciate that the author was trying to address important environmental and social issues while writing a novel but the style in which it was written had no affect on me. It was disjointed and confusing. There were many times when I literally asked "what the hell did I just read?" But because I didn't care at all about the characters or what happened to them and didn't want to waste any more time reading about them I just plowed ahead.

It wasn't the worst thing I have read this year and I can see why some people liked it but for me it was extremely disappointing.

For a more in depth review, check out my YouTube channel.
11 reviews3 followers
October 14, 2015
Claire Vaye Watkins is certainly overrated as a writer. That's all I could think as I read this rambling, tiring, tedious first novel. Even the opening paragraph exhausted me--a girl accidentally "punts" a prairie dog into a library without realizing it, and then we're off to the races, reading the girl's thoughts about wishing she could try on a bunch of clothes so she can watch her breasts and her ass glitter. And impress her boyfriend, of course. It doesn't get much better after that. Because oh, by the way, we're reading a post-apocalyptic novel--the dullest one of the year. A baby gets introduced. The plot, if there ever was one, falls apart faster than Western civilization. Sentences pile up, each one less lucid and evocative than the last.

Watkins is clearly a writer who likes to show off on the page, sacrificing any notion of plot or character to thickets of dense language. If that's your thing, then you'll probably enjoy Gold Fame Citrus. But if you like a story that's interesting and organic, and if you like a novel that doesn't remind you every single paragraph that you're reading the work of some very clever wordsmith with a hard-won MFA, then you'll absolutely hate this book.

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
November 5, 2015
I received a review copy of this book in audio from Penguin Random House.

I'm not certain, but I might have read too many post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels. The last few I read just have not felt like they had many new ideas or fresh approaches. Is it the subgenre, is it me, or is it the authors? You should read this review in the context of potential reader/listener burnout.

I think most people will enjoy this novel. I have been meaning to read Claire Vaye Watkins ever since Jason gushed about her on the Reading Envy Podcast, and I do think she is a good writer. That may translate better for me in short stories than in a novel of this topic, but it was still present here.

The water situation in California is truly dire. It is a natural topic for the near-future. How will the government respond if it gets out of control? What will we do if everyone in California had to relocate? These questions form the framework of the novel's background, and are an interesting place to start. Her evocative descriptions of a California with no water, from the sand sea to the hollow yucca trees, brings the reader into this terrifying landscape. She shifts in tone and style in an effective way - I even noticed some good uses of lists and repetition, maybe easier to notice while listening to the audio.

Some of the elements that I feel are slightly overused in dystopian/post-apocalyptic lit are here too, and I think this is what I'm complaining about. A potential government conspiracy that means things are not what they seem (and the community-building power the belief in this has), a journey taken by central characters to allow the author to more fully describe the new landscape, and a prophet character or two that controls a group of isolated people, encountered by the wanderers. I'm not sure what could have made these elements, these tropes, more successful in my mind, but I felt let down to find them yet again.

For the audio version, there are two narrators - Jorjeana Marie and MacLeod Andrews. Jorjeana tells most of the story and MacLeod steps in for specific parts. It was kind of funny to hear his voice on this novel as he was also one of the two narrators for The Heart Goes Last, the last dystopian novel I read.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,020 reviews1,962 followers
October 30, 2015
This book showed up on some sort of Most Anticipated list, and I decided to look it up based solely on the fact that its cover kinda, sorta looked a bit like Fates and Furies. The story -- about a couple surviving in a California that’s largely been abandoned due to drought -- wasn’t really my thing, but it was earning comparisons to Station Eleven -- which I adored even though it didn’t seem like it would be my thing -- so I decided to make like a pseudo-apocalyptic survivor and go beyond my comfort zone.

It focuses on Luz, a former poster child for the conservation movement, and Ray, an AWOL soldier, who find themselves taking care of a baby named Ig. They’d been living an almost anarchical existence in California after the drought forced most citizens Eastward, but the introduction of new responsibilities forces them to reconsider their lifestyle and they, too, decide to head East. Naturally, bad things happen on the way.

I appreciate that Watkins was trying to do a lot of stuff with this book. There’s a lot of commentary about environmentalism and social responsibility, and Watkins has definitely done an impressive job layering in incredibly symbolism and metaphors. The prose is often quite stunning -- she’s done a great job describing a deserted landscape that feels like it might actually be in our future. It’s also wildly creative -- she’s managed to invent new species inhabiting a vast sea of desert sand. She even managed to name-check one of the Ohio state parks of my childhood (turns out she’s an Ohio State alum, so of course she did). This book strikes me as incredibly well-done.

But I never really found myself caring about the characters or the plot, which was a little frustrating. That may be as much my fault as anything that Watkins was doing, but the fact remains. I didn’t find Luz or Ray or the cult living in great pile of sand particularly compelling. I was never concerned about where things were headed nor excited to find out. It might be better suited for fans of dystopian literature looking for a smart, well-written dystopian novel, but it wasn’t really my thing.
Profile Image for Michelle Morrell.
1,033 reviews73 followers
January 7, 2016
"Gold Fame Citrus" takes place in a California devoid of water, where a sea of sand has grown to overtake the entire center of the southwest, and the only people remaining are those too stubborn, damaged or poor to leave. Following Luz, faded model, her "husband" and the baby they find along the way, it travels from the shattered remains of the coastal cities into the deep desert.

Gold, fame, and citrus, the three things that used to bring people to the state, are all gone. So what remains?

I would call this 3.5 stars, but I rounded up for a couple of reasons. The characters are all believably strong, believable flawed. There is an honestly in their portrayals. Also,
Profile Image for Catie.
1,334 reviews57 followers
January 18, 2016
I tried so hard to give this book a chance, but it did absolutely nothing for me, except give me a headache with the constant lists and repetitions. It seemed the author needed to fill up pages so lists of random people, checklists, applications, animals and made up tv shows and characters etc., were used to complete the word count requirement. I have never rated a book so low, but in this case, I don't even feel comfortable giving it a one star rating, it deserved a half star, in my opinion. This one wasn't for me.
Profile Image for CJ Alberts.
48 reviews792 followers
September 5, 2022
Manifest destiny but manifest…. Hell!??? Weird weird weird I love it
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