California by Edan Lepucki
The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can’t reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.
Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.
A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind’s dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.
In hindsight, the blurb makes me groan and touches upon most of my issues with this novel.
It’s hard to talk about this without making some kind of judgement on the author, so I’m not going to beat around the bush. The author of this book has either grown up in the whitest of white suburbia or is writing about a society she thinks exists in that suburbia. The amount of complaining and the horror in which these characters treat problems that are commonplace for a lot of people today is dumbfounding. This is not post apocalypse, this is ”I’m going camping” level problems. Oh no the water we shower with is cold! Oh no we don’t have electricity! Oh no we sleep in a queen sized bed! It’s utterly bizarre that the image of post apocalyptic society she managed to paint was ”Sometimes the water is cold.” I’m not suggesting that vast swathes of the American population live without hot water or electricity, but for anyone who’s been even a bit poor, these things should be familiar.
I’d wager that in a post apocalyptic society there’d be problems like not having water to drink (let alone shower) or food. Cold would probably kill you, depending on location. While horrible things happen (suicide, death, murder) in the book and things are definitely grim, the overall vibe I got from the protagonists is that they are hugely spoiled middle class kids. That might actually be on purpose, but since no one else shows up that’s any different, I don’t think so. You’d expect some kind of contrast between a survivalist who maybe knows how to hunt and skin animals and build a cabin and the couple who struggles to garden and lives in an abandoned shed.
The second biggest flaw in my opinion, was the plot. While there’s a lot of meat on it to distract (and some of it is fairly enjoyable), for anyone who has ever consumed any kind of post apocalyptic media, this might be the most generic plot there is. People go looking, find strange community of survivors who appear to be doing really well and welcome them in, but are also secretive. What is their big secret? Read to find out. I mean, up to the point where they decide to go looking, they seem to have a pretty good life, without any major problems. Food, shelter, safety. The reason they leave all that is basically because Frida is bored and wants some cool shit to happen, or something.
What elevates this novel from the bottom of the barrel is the writing. While a bit pretentious at points, once you get used to it, it serves its purpose very well and distracts from the bare bones plot by adding a myriad of subplots and characters. Switching the POV between the couple is a smart move, allowing us a better understanding of their choices and motivations. I personally found Frida to be really unlikable and was forever waiting for Cal or someone else to call her out, but alas, it never happens. I suppose it’s fairly realistic, but at the same time not really that enjoyable, which always seems to be the problem with realism.
I admit to being a bit perplex both by the plot and the universe in which it takes place in. It’s a sort of ”soft apocalypse” where society has slowly crumbled, but it sort of doesn’t make a lot of sense. On one hand you have private schooling and a very middle class existence and on the other, you have suicide bombers and packs of marauding bandits. I’m not sure how those fit together. I can’t talk about the plot without some major spoilers, but there are a few things there that make no sense either. If civilization is mostly gone, who the hell would care about politics? It’s such a strange thing to get hanged up on when society has completely collapsed.
The major plot twists keep me from delving too much into the plot, so I’ll cut this rambling mess short. I enjoyed part of this novel, but was very irritated by Frida and a couple of other characters. A lot of things stress suspension of disbelief for me so overall I must say I was left disappointed.
2 out of 5 Spoiled White Kids