In 2012, Claire Vaye Watkins burst onto the literary landscape with her prize-winning short story collection, Battleborn. In Gold Fame Citrus, Watkins follows through on her literary promise with an excellent novel, set in a drought-ridden California in a future that feels alarmingly near.
Gold Fame Citrus is the story of Luz, a woman born when California was merely on the cusp of collapse but who must make her way in a world where the waters have run dry and the borders into more verdant parts of the country are blocked off to people of her provenance, so-called “Mojavs.” Along with a drifter named Ray, Luz has managed to carve out an existence in the arid remnants of a place that once glittered, and the two have learned to get by however they can. When they become guardians to an enigmatic slip of a child, however, Luz’s desiccated dreams of what life once was and, perhaps, could some day be again, gush forth. For the sake of their family, they decide to brave the ever-encroaching dune sea, a desolate shifting stretch of sand that separates them from a more habitable climate. But the wasteland they have been led to believe is barren is far from empty and contains untold hazards—some physical, some spiritual, some psychological.
There is no shortage of dystopian literature examining the destruction to the planet that man has wrought and humankind’s tenacious will to survive, but Gold Fame Citrus easily catapults itself into the upper echelon of the genre. Deeply evocative and emotional, Watkins’ writing is hypnotic, drawing readers into a fevered lullaby that feels fantastical and all-too-real simultaneously. This is the kind of novel that readers will want to consume in great gulps as they race to discover Luz and company’s fate, but Gold Fame Citrus is best read slowly, allowing the words to wash over you.