The newest edition to my 100 book collection is California by Edan Lepucki.
I chose this one because it was the first book published by this author, and it fuels the publishing dreamer in me. The author is a graduate of the Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, which is really impressive and incredible. So I really really really wish I would have liked this book…. but I just didn’t.
Lepucki’s writing style in this novel is very disjointed. She shifts readily between present and past events and the transitions are frequently choppy. So much so that I often got lost in the prose and had to go back and read. I had to do this so many times that it got annoying and I lost interest pretty early. But I pressed on!
While I didn’t care for many elements of this read, Lepucki wins the award for honesty in dystopian fiction. Her depiction of marriage is pretty great, and realistic as a relationship. Better than the Gale/Peeta/Katniss triangle and miles beyond the Tris/Four roller coaster where it was near impossible to tell if they even liked, much less loved, each other. But in their defense, that genre has a different story to tell. Nevertheless, Lepucki captures marriage pretty distinctly through a series of genuine love, annoyance, trust and mistrust. Stable as a relationship, but riddled with human emotion, the Cal/Frida component could easily have been your own marriage.
The absolute best and worst part of this book was the reality of living off the land. Don’t you ever wonder how the Dauntless-District 12 kids manage to be wholly clean and beautiful no matter how far into the barren lands they roam? California had the bravery to be honest, and there were many opportunities throughout to bare witness.
Moments like this:
She leaned forward, and he could smell her musky breath. “Sorry,” she said. “Morning breath?”
He grabbed her jaw and kissed her. “Yum,” he said, and pulled for her t-shirt.
So, gross, but honest. And how about this?
Frida grabbed a razor next. Its hollow nothing-weight took her breath away. Her skin was so dry, and her leg hair so thick, that she winced as she dragged the razor across her skin. “Does it hurt?” Cal asked, but she didn’t reply. She moisturized afterward, rubbing the lotion into her calves and even across the tops of her feet. Her skin looked amazing bare, smooth as a slide. She hadn’t seen her legs hairless in years, and she’d missed it.
As an avid fan of shaving this really bothered me, but not nearly as much as this gem:
… she hadn’t used any of their drinking water to wash up, even though her crotch smelled like manure. How sexy.
Sorry if you’re reading this over lunch.
While I can appreciate the honesty of this novel, there’s something about it that really bothers me. Aside from the difficulty I had keeping up with Lepucki’s thought train, the worst part for me was that nothing really happened. There was one grand revelation in the book that ultimately leads nowhere. Then the novel just ends, or rather doesn’t end, because there are still so many unanswered questions. Maybe this was meant to be a trilogy, but if given the opportunity I wouldn’t read on. The hooks just weren’t enough to get my bite. But if you want a real depiction of what it’s like to live off the grid, Lepucki’s got your ticket. If she can retain your interest.